Crews battling 10,500-acre fire near Ekalaka

2012-09-16T19:45:00Z 2012-09-17T07:22:07Z Crews battling 10,500-acre fire near EkalakaBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

After more than a day of fast-moving, erratic fire behavior, crews managed on Sunday to make solid progress on the 10,675-acre Dugan fire burning two miles south of Ekalaka thanks to a little cooperation from the weather.

The fire, which was 28 percent contained as of 7 p.m. Sunday, started on Sept. 14 and local crews initially responded, fighting the fire through the night as gusty winds drove it throughout the grasslands and stands of trees.

It has destroyed an estimated three outbuildings and an uninhabited trailer but no homes, said Linda Williams, fire information officer.

“Those initial attack crews just did an incredible job on structure protection,” she said.

Driven by erratic winds, the fire quickly spread throughout Saturday and into the evening. A Montana Department of Natural Resources county assist team took over command of the fire on Sunday morning and is working with local crews and the Bureau of Land Management to keep it in check.

It is burning on a mix of private, BLM and U.S. Forest Service-managed land in the Ekalaka Hills in Custer National Forest.

Thanks to higher humidity, lower temperatures and lighter winds, fire crews began to contain the fire on Sunday.

“They did a lot of mop up today, taking care of snags, which were a big problem,” Williams said. “They also widened fire lines.”

Its cause remains under investigation.

While no evacuations have been ordered, Williams asked the public to stay off the rural roads around the fire.

The Forest Service has closed all National Forest System lands from the Chalk Buttes Highway on the west and north side to the Pershing Cuttoff Road on the south side and on the east side to Highway 323.

About 220 people are assigned to the fire, using 25 engines, three helicopters, three graders and a pair of dozers.

Near Livingston, the 8,509-acre Pine Creek fire continues to burn in the Paradise Valley and remains 51 percent contained, with all fire activity within the interior of the fire perimeter.

Heavy smoke rolled into the area in advance of a cold front on Saturday evening, but the smoke came from large fires burning in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

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