6 A.M.: The Taylor Creek fire has grown to 59,840 acres and is 60 percent contained, fire officials report.
Fire crews continued to work Friday building fire lines on the perimeter of the blaze. They performed a burnout operation to reinforce fire lines next to the Stevens Ranch, near the mouth of Taylor Creek.
The Ash Creek fire is now 75 percent contained, and the Powerline and Horse Creek fires are at 95 containment.
The Powder River County evacuation notice has been lifted, fire officials said.
OVERNIGHT REPORT: A reprieve from scorching temperatures and even some rain overnight on Thursday helped firefighters in southeastern Montana make progress on Friday on a complex of fires.
U.S. Highway 212, which had been closed to all but local traffic from Lame Deer to Broadus, also reopened to general traffic. Slower speed limits are in effect on some stretches of the road because of firefighting traffic and smoke potential.
Displaced residents of the Heritage Living Center, an assisted-living facility in Ashland, were returning home on Friday, center officials said.
Almost 40 residents, staff and staff family members were taken from Ashland on June 26 and ultimately went to the Willows, a new assisted-living center in Red Lodge. The Willows is operated by St. John’s Lutheran Ministries, which offered to help the Ashland residents.
The biggest fire in the Southeastern Montana Complex, the 248,600-acre Ash Creek fire near Ashland, is 70 percent contained with most of the fire, except for the eastern flank, in mop-up and patrol status, said Kathy Bushnell, fire information officer.
“They received anywhere between a tenth to a quarter inch of rain on the fire last night,” Bushnell said on Friday.
With Friday’s forecast for temperatures in the mid 80s, relative humidity between 31 percent to 36 percent and calmer winds, crews planned to build direct fire lines on the east and northeast flanks of the fire.
The complex’s next biggest fire, the Taylor Creek fire southwest of Fort Howes, got “only a smattering of rain,” said Dixie Dies, fire information officer.
The rain temporarily slowed the fire before the weather was expected to change to a warm, drying trend.
Firefighters on Friday focused on the north and northeast side, which is mostly heavy timber, Dies said. The Taylor Creek fire is 20 percent contained and at 46,214 acres. The fire began on Tuesday.
A passing thunderstorm on Thursday started three new fires west of the main fire, but smoke jumpers and a rapid-response group of engines and crews attacked the new blazes. One of the new fires was about 1,000 acres, but was contained by crews.
Firefighters also are camped near the Stevens Ranch, about 21 miles south of U.S. Highway 212, to save driving time to fires.
Two other fires in the complex, the Powerline fire at 5,265 acres, and the Horse Creek fire at 7,575 acres, both west of Colstrip, are 90 percent to 95 percent contained.
After Friday, crews will no longer be on those two fires at night, Dies said. The fires will be in “patrol status,” she said. “We’re not leaving them. We’re still going to be there watching, but this will give us extra resources to put into Taylor Creek,” she said.
The Coal Seam fire, also within the complex, was contained at 527 acres. The fire was northwest of Busby.
Mark Jacobsen, a public-affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management in Miles City, said on Friday that multiagency fire crews contained two new fires reported on Thursday.
One was the Tidwell fire, about 27 miles east of Decker in Big Horn County, and the other was the Boyce fire, which was about 1,000 acres, southeast of Birney in Rosebud County, Jacobsen said. The size of the Tidwell fire was not available.
The BLM also reported that eight new fires started on Thursday and that most of them were out or contained.
Starting Friday, agencies began setting up a long-term staging area for fire resources at the fairgrounds in Miles City. The staging will allow quicker responses to fires, Jacobsen said.
In the Billings area, the Dry Creek fire near Laurel was 80 percent contained on Friday. “We’re bumping up to containment,” said Paula Short, fire information officer.
The fire was expected to be turned over to county responders for patrolling by Friday evening, Short said. The fire was not expected to grow from its 1,158 acres, she said.