Montana wildfire grows despite less intense winds than anticipated

Tuesday, September 5th 2006, 5:36 am
By: News On 6

BIG TIMBER, Mont. (AP) Firefighters have made some headway against an enormous wildfire that has prompted the evacuation of hundreds of people, but officials warned the fire is far from being contained.

"We're still working on this thing on all fronts,'' said Dixie Dees, a fire information officer.

The fire, in south-central Montana, has burned 26 homes and is classified as the nation's number one firefighting priority.

Crews were able to build additional fire lines around the blaze Monday as winds didn't pick up as feared.

Eight airplanes dumped a total of 14,000 gallons of retardant on Monday alone to slow the flames' pace, and a fleet of about seven helicopters dumped 190,000 gallons of water, said Allison Jackson, another fire information officer.

The fire has spread across 180,000 acres, or more than 280 square miles, since lightning sparked it on August 22. It was only about 20% contained, authorities said.

About 265 homes were evacuated in just a few hours Sunday night on the western flank of the fast-moving blaze, said Kelly O'Connell, Sweetgrass County disaster and emergency services coordinator.

Fire officials feared that wind and higher temperatures this week would create extreme fire conditions.

In Washington state, firefighters continued to battle fires that have burned more than 270,000 acres, or nearly 422 square miles.