Stillwater County officials ordered evacuations and fire officials called for reinforcements to fight a fire that sparked at about 6 p.m. Wednesday and had grown to at least 3,000 acres overnight.
Crews planned to fight the Skibstad fire through the night, hoping to get the upper hand on the wind-driven blaze, said Paula Short, fire information officer with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Stillwater County officials ordered evacuations for homes in the Shane Creek area south of the Skibstad fire. Pre-evacuation notices went to residents on East Shane Creek and south to the Carbon County line warning residents to monitor fire information sources and be prepared to leave if advised by fire officials to do so.
The fire ignited between Highway 421 and Shane Creek Road at about 6 p.m.
By 8:45 p.m., the fire had grown to between 600 and 800 acres and had spread from Stillwater into Carbon County, Short said.
Fire crews and 45 engines from Sweet Grass, Yellowstone, Stillwater and Carbon counties along with state DNRC firefighters were fighting the blaze.
Two helicopters were making water drops and two air tankers dropped retardant on the fire, Short said.
The aircraft were sent from the Billings Interagency Dispatch Center.
Short said the fire was burning most actively to the south in grass, sage and timber.
Melissa Fraze, co-owner of Keyser Creek Arena four miles north of Columbus, said flames could be seen from the arena across the Stillwater River when the fire broke out.
“It got a lot bigger quickly,” Fraze said. “The fire looks really hot — it’s red and glowing and I think people in the area are pretty scared with all the other recent fires.”
On Saturday, fire crews aggressively hit two fires about 10 miles apart that burned about 15 miles southwest of Joliet — the largest on Shane Ridge, which burned about 40 acres. The other fire started on Upper Flats. Both were ignited by lightning.
“The weekend fire was a good fire drill for the area,” Fraze said. “People brought their horses to our stalls when the fire broke out. So people know the drill to bring their horses here.”
Horses may be brought to Keyser Creek Arena at 390 Rapelje Road, Fraze said.
As of 10:30 p.m., the arena had taken in at least a dozen horses from about 10 residents. Fraze said about 90 stalls are available.
Officials have not released the cause of the Skibstad fire, other than to say it appears to be the result of a fire in a secondary structure that spread to surrounding timber.
Firefighters and 45 engines were on the blaze and hoping cooler temperatures and increased humidity overnight would help with the suppression effort.
On Thursday, they will be assisted by helicopters and air tankers, along with additional engines ordered on Wednesday night, according to the DNRC.
Thursday's weather forecast calls for cooler temperatures, but gusty winds also are predicted. No injuries have been reported.