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UPDATE as of Saturday, 9:30 a.m.: The Sartin Draw fire grew to 91,000 acres as of Saturday morning, according to an update provided by the Montana DNRC county assist team. It remains 10 percent contained.

Resources on the fire include 31 engines, three crews, nine heavy equipment and 190 personnel.

On Saturday, local, state and federal firefighers will continue to build and improve fire lines and burn out areas of unburned line. They will also be working to secure the fire perimeter in front of Sunday's forecasted cold front.

Pre-evacuation notice remains in place for residents north of Merchant Cut, west of Highway 59 and south of 674 Road. 

Air quality Saturday morning also remained unhealthy for the towns of Broadus and Birney, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.


The Sartin Draw fire burning in Powder River County has doubled in size to about 80,000 acres as of Friday morning, fire officials said.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s County Assist Team assumed management of the wildfire at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, said Mark Jacobson, a spokesman for the Miles City Interagency Dispatch Center.

The team demobilized from the Mendenhall fire in Big Timber and brought more than a dozen engines, one crew and three pieces of heavy equipment to the Sartin Draw fire.

The fire was reported on Wednesday morning and local, state and federal fire resources have been working to slow or stop its progression. The fire is about 20 miles northeast of Ashland and is burning on Forest Service and private lands. The cause is unknown.

There are no closures but fire officials advised people to expect heavy fire vehicle traffic along the Tongue River Road and surrounding roads near the fire.

A pre-evacuation notice is in place for residents north of Merchant Cut, west of Highway 59 and south of 674 Road.

By 8 p.m. Friday night the fire was estimated to be 10 percent contained, with fireline progress made along the southeast, according to a DNRC press release. Gusting winds produced some fires along the fire's northeast outside firelines but engines and heavy equipment were working to construct lines around them. A bulldozer line was put inplace along the northern edge and a burn operation was conducted to reinforce that perimeter. The western side of the fire was no longer burning Friday night and crews were patrolling the area, according to the release.

Resources assigned to the fire include 24 engines, three crews, eight pieces of heavy equipment and 190 firefighting personnel. 

Severe drought combined with hot and windy conditions have not helped firefighting efforts, officials said. In addition to the Sartin Draw fire, firefighters have been working on numerous other fires ignited by thunderstorms that rolled through the area in the past week.

Air quality

Air quality readings at the the Montana Department of Environmental Quality's monitoring station in Broadus began Friday at moderate levels before deteriorating at about 6:30 a.m. into quality "unhealthy for sensitive groups," according to DEQ air monitoring data from its Broadus Station. 

By 8 a.m. air quality levels were designated "unhealthy" and remained there as of 5 p.m. 

Unhealthy air quality can cause increased aggravation of heart or lung disease and early death in people with heart and lung diseases, the elderly and people of lower socioeconomic status, according to Montana DEQ's health effect descriptions for air quality. Those groups of people, along with children, should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion under unhealthy air quality conditions.  

The general population can experience trouble breathing when air quality is designated unhealthy.

Visibility under unhealthy air quality levels ranges between 5 and 2.2 miles, compared to 13.4 miles or more under good air quality conditions. 

"They're going to be dealing with that for at least the rest of the evening," said Wright Dobbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings. An improvement in air quality is possible Friday night as winds switch and begin blowing from the south and west.

Saturday afternoon winds will shift and begin blowing out of the northwest, returning smoke to the area, Dobbs said. 

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Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.