A wildfire first reported on the Custer Gallatin National Forest, west of Volborg, Wednesday morning is now estimated at 40,000 acres and continuing to spread quickly to the northwest.

Only about 70 personnel are currently deployed at the Sartin Draw Fire, which has spread across a swath of forest and range land including portions of Powder River, Rosebud, and Custer counties.

Evacuation orders are in effect for ranches and homes in the area of the fire, although Eric Lepisto, a Bureau of Land Management fire management officer, didn't immediately have an estimate of how many people or residences are affected.

"The current direction of Sartin Draw Fire is heading north and west, so there are those interspersed ranch houses and properties there that are ranches. That’s our concern," he said. State, federal and county firefighters are currently focused on structure protection rather than attempting to stop the fire's progress, he added.

The fire has reached the Tongue River, where crews are attempting to extinguish flames as it spots across the roughly 30 feet to the other side. Lepisto said it will likely spread fully to the other side once the wind picks up Thursday. The wind direction is expected to change later in the day, he said, but those forecasts were still in flux as of Thursday morning.

"It's all wind-driven. The wind has been just incredible," Lepisto said.

The fire team previously working on the Mendenhall Fire in the West Boulder area has been ordered to the blaze, but Lepisto said available resources are stretched thin.

"Currently that’s the only (incident command) team within a day’s availability. As you know, the nation is really busy right now and the Northern Rockies are really busy right now," Lepisto said.

But, he added, "It doesn't matter how many resources you have on a fire like this, you're not going to be able to pinch it off."

No road closures were in effect in the 8,000 to 10,000 acres of National Forest land affected by the fire as of late Thursday afternoon, according to a press release from the Ashland Ranger District.

But the release noted that status "could change rapidly," and recommended against camping in the area while warning that the blaze could impact the upcoming elk season on forest lands.


Morning Reporter

General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.