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HELENA (AP) — Fire crews have contained at least 40 percent of the Jimtown fire that erupted Sunday east of Helena, allowing evacuated residents to return to their homes, officials said Tuesday.

Crews spent the day keeping the fire away from seven houses and a tavern near Canyon Ferry, but fire managers said there was little threat from the blaze.

Jack Kendley, information officer for the Helena National Forest, said if the flames jumped into a gulch near the buildings, crews "could knock it down pretty well."

Still, residents of the homes were put on evacuation watch.

There are about 11 crews on the fire, now measured at about 1,000 acres, assisted by four helicopters, two retardant bombers, 12 engines and several bulldozers.

Crews continued Tuesday to connect the boundaries of the fire, and mop up hot smoldering spots, with special attention on securing a line near the Cave Gulch area that burned in 2000.

The terrain there is steep, so crews were hand digging the lines along the gulch.

Cooler temperatures and little wind Tuesday helped the 11 crews keep a handle on the fire, said Kendley.

"Sometimes, a fire will make a run and go like a gobbler but then it will lay down and we can get a line around it," Kendley said.

The Jimtown fire forced the evacuation of nine residents Sunday along the Jimtown road near Canyon Ferry Reservoir. No homes were damaged, though, and the evacuees were allowed to return to their homes Tuesday morning.

Power was also restored Monday night to York, a mountain town of about 180 people, which had been without power or phones for more than a day.

Officials have said the fire was human-caused, but an investigation is underway into how exactly it ignited. The Lewis and Clark County Sherriff's office is offering a $5,000 reward on any information.

The Bureau of Land Management was also fighting a 1,000-acre lightning-caused fire 15 miles northeast of Roy. Nine engine crews, three 20-person hand crews, one helicopter and two air tankers are on the fire. Crews burned 250 acres Monday night on the South side of the fire to keep it from moving South.

Crews are also still working on the Blackwall fire 20 miles west of Wisdom, near the Idaho border. Burning in the back country, it is estimated at 350 acres.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More information

Stage 1 fire restrictions will go in effect starting Friday on most federal, state and private lands in Big Horn, Carbon, Musselshell, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Treasure and Yellowstone counties because of continuing hot weather. The restrictions do not apply to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and Gallatin National Forest lands in these counties.

Anyone who causes a wildland fire intentionally or through negligence may be held accountable for damage and suppression costs.

Under Stage 1, the following acts are prohibited:

- Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire except within a developed recreation site or improved site.

- Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

Exceptions are allowed for people using a fire fueled solely by liquid petroleum or LPG; for a federal, state or local officer or member of an organized law-enforcement, rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty; or people with a permit or written authorization allowing the otherwise prohibited act or omission.

For more information, call Custer National Forest at 657-6200; BLM at 896-5013; Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation at 247-4400; Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks at 247-2940; Carbon County at 446-1595; Stillwater County at 321-0204; or your local fire department or sheriff's office.

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