Crews wrapping up work on 5 southeastern Montana fires, now all contained

2012-07-12T08:53:00Z 2013-02-12T21:56:45Z Crews wrapping up work on 5 southeastern Montana fires, now all containedBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette

The Type 1 incident management team that has been in charge of the five fires within the Southeastern Montana Complex handed its duties to a smaller Type 3 team Thursday evening as firefighting efforts continued to wind down.

All five of the fires — the Ash Creek, Taylor Creek, Powerline, Horse Creek and Coal Seam fires — are 100 percent contained.

High winds and thunderstorms sitting over the complex Wednesday afternoon kept crews busy patrolling fire lines and making sure lightning strikes didn’t ignite new blazes.

Fire crews did mop up one hot spot east of Fort Howes close to the containment lines of the Taylor Creek fire, while sawdust piles that had caught fire within the Ash Creek fire kicked up flames and smoke, although they were well within containment lines.

The fires have burned about 325,000 acres since late June.

As the fire activity is dying down, so is the number of resources on the fire. As of Thursday morning, there were 390 personnel on the fire, down from nearly 600 on Wednesday. The five hand crews were assisted by 27 engines, 12 dozers and graders, five water tenders an a pair of helicopters.

An informational meeting organized by U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R.—Mont., was held Thursday night in Ashland at the St. Labre School auditorium to help livestock owners affected by the complex’s largest fire, the Ash Creek fire, which has burned more than 249,000 acres.

Representatives from the Farm Service Agency, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Resource Conservation Service and Rosebud and Powder River counties, along with Rehberg staffers, were there to speak with ranchers.

J.T. Korkow, Rehberg’s Eastern Montana regional director, described the meeting as “a share of information in both directions.”

The goal, he said, was to provide ranchers and other livestock owners with as much information and as many resources as possible while also gathering information from them, including losses and needs.

Korkow said that rough numbers from the U.S. Forest Service indicate that ranchers in the area have about 8,000 cattle. Many of them were killed or displaced in the fire and grazing land is sparse.

He said they’re in the process of working federal and state agencies to open up more land to hold and feed the herds. He estimated that it will take about 110 tons of forage each day — about $15,000 worth — to feed the cattle.

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