Pine Creek fire 51 percent contained; most of Montana under red flag warning

2012-09-09T15:51:00Z 2012-09-10T10:09:10Z Pine Creek fire 51 percent contained; most of Montana under red flag warningBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Containment continues to creep up, albeit slowly, on the 8,000-acre Pine Creek fire burning in Paradise Valley south of Livingston.

A news release from fire officials said the fire was 51 percent contained Sunday morning, with most of the actively burning areas within the fire’s interior.

It is in a rugged, steep and inaccessible area about two miles from the Pine Creek Campground, a news release from the fire management team said.

By 3 p.m. on Sunday, the fire had flared up a bit on the norther side of the Pine Creek drainage with active flames moving through and a thick column of smoke rising above the treetops.

That area, which sits high up on a slope, was also active on Saturday, along with the Deep Creek area, which saw dry and windy conditions.

The Type 1 Incident Management Team in charge of the fire planned to hand over operations to a smaller Type 2 team by the end of Sunday afternoon.

Even with the transition, officials are keeping a wary eye on the weather, as most of Montana is under a red flag warning that cautions of the potential for explosive fire growth through Tuesday evening.

Low humidity levels and gusty winds will be compounded by a cold front pushing through the area on Monday, bringing with it quick and unpredictable wind shifts with gusts of as much as 35 mph.

The front could also bring thunderstorms that could pepper the area with lightning, creating the risk of more new fires, according to the National Weather Service.

Officials ask that people wanting to see the fire use Mallard’s Rest fishing access along Highway 89 and not stop on East River Road. The Loch Leven fishing access on the Yellowstone River was also closed Sunday as the management team relocated to the area.

Investigators believe the fire is human-caused but have not released more information.

More than 180 people are assigned to the fire with two crews, nine engines, five water tenders and three helicopters.

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