High winds push Montana wilderness fire to 6,000 acres; firefighters gain on California blazes

Wednesday, September 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) _ A wildfire started by lightning in a wilderness area nearly two weeks ago jumped from 200 acres to nearly 6,000 acres, making a huge plume of smoke visible for miles, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

The fire moved very quickly, spurred by 30 mph winds, said Steve Zachry, deputy fire management officer for the Lolo National Forest. The blaze covered 1,200 acres at 2 p.m. and between 4,000 and 6,000 acres by 4 p.m., he said.

``Conditions are very bad right now, very much outside the normal for this time of year,'' Zachry said.

``The forecast isn't good _ winds, lightning and very little chance of moisture,'' Zachry said.

Fire managers in the Lolo and Flathead national forests were trying to locate dozens of backcountry hunters and outfitter camps to alert them to the danger.

Bras said the fire was started by lightning on Sept. 13 and stayed at about 60 acres for days. Because it is in a wilderness, fire managers monitored the fire but did not actively try to suppress it.

Meanwhile, despite scorching temperatures, firefighters gained ground on wildfires in Southern California, including a 200-acre blaze that burned a home and forced the temporary evacuation of residents from 20 others.

That fire was one of three to strike San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, during a hot spell that stretched across Southern California. Temperatures on Tuesday reached above 100 degrees.