Mont. declares state of emergency over wildfires

Strong winds have fueled the flames that have already burned 430 square miles

Bozeman Daily Chronicle 

BILLINGS, Mont. — Montana's governor declared an emergency Monday across roughly half the state, as gusting winds were expected to breathe new life into wildfires that have already blackened almost 430 square miles in the past week.

Temperatures in the upper 90s further dried out the parched region.

The National Weather Service warned of lightning strikes that could spark new blazes, and fire crews braced for winds up to 40 mph into evening. Red flag warnings were in effect for southwest, central and parts of southeast Montana.

Government agencies reported that 2,000 firefighters and other personnel were trying to hold the gains made in recent days on more than a dozen large blazes.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer's emergency proclamation for southeastern and south central Montana cited the continuing threat to towns and rural communities, including Ashland, Lame Deer and Colstrip.

The order paved the way for mobilization of the Montana National Guard and other state resources to help stamp out any new blazes in coming days. The order covers 23 of the state's 56 counties along with the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian reservations near the Wyoming border.

Some of the strongest winds were expected to hit the Rosebud Creek complex of fires -- six blazes that have burned a combined 260 square miles.

One of those, the Chalky Creek Fire burning near Lame Deer, was largely uncontained as firefighting crews continued to work the blaze right at the edge of town. No evacuations were in place. Spokeswoman Marilyn Krause said restrictions on U.S. Highway 212 were possible later in the day.

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