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Controlled ignitions are scheduled for Sunday for the lightning-caused and zero percent contained 1,528 acre Hunter Peak Fire, which is expected to continue spreading along all perimeters, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group website InciWeb.

Burning in the Clark Fork Ranger District of the Shoshone National Forest about 15 miles southeast of Cooke City and 30 miles west of Cody, 536 personnel are working to stop the fire, which prompted evacuations of the Squaw Creek area along County Road XUX and threatens 95 structures located on a mix of private inholdings and U.S. Forest Service land, according to Hunter Peak Fire public information officer Celeste Prescott.

The ignitions could take three to four days and will involve projectiles from aircraft and hand ignition tools on the ground, Prescott said. The goal is to deprive the fire of fuels and allow better control of its movement, Prescott said. A noticeable increase in smoke was visible from far away, she said. 

The elevated, rugged terrain upon which the fire is burning means that it will likely take significant rain or snow before the fire is fully extinguished, Prescott said. 

"We're going to do all that we can to minimize its growth and keep it within the box, but there's a lot of dead and down trees, both from beetle kill and the 1988 fire that burnt in the area," Prescott said. "That stuff will just hold heat and smolder for a long time." 

Despite evacuation orders, some residents had been allowed to return on a limited basis to collect medicine and other important items, but Prescott said no further returns are allowed at this point due to traffic hazards to residents and firefighters.

A Temporary Flying Restriction, or TFR, is in effect over the fire and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Prescott said. Multiple requests have been made to fly drones over the reservoir to observe water-scooping aircraft, but Prescott said drones are absolutely not allowed to fly over the fire or the reservoir because of the potential danger they pose to firefighting aircraft. Drones could result in suspension of aerial firefighting, according to a poster provided by Prescott.

The Buffalo Bill Reservoir has been partially closed west of the line running between Eagle Point and Spring Creek to allow water-scooping aircraft access to its waters, but boaters are allowed to be on the reservoir, Prescott said. Should boaters see aircraft preparing a scooping operation, they are asked to move their vessels near the shore, according to a U.S. Forest Service informational poster provided by Prescott. Scooping operations take about 20 seconds from touchdown to take off, according to the poster. 

A no-stopping zone is in effect along the Chief Jospeh Highway in the vicinity of the fire, and drivers should check its status for road closures at http://www.wyoroad.info/pls/Browse/WRR.CLOSURES, according to InciWeb.

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Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.