Numerous wind-driven fires erupted across Eastern Montana Wednesday, including a blaze that has forced evacuations southeast of Roundup.
Two rounds of evacuations were announced by Musselshell County Disaster and Emergency Services officials Wednesday:
- An area that includes Bobcat Lane, Bear Road, Lazy R Way, Deer Lane, Cobie Lane, Johnny's Coal Road, Lennick Road, Beard Road, Crocus Road, Elk, Lane, Smith Road, Outlaw Trail, and Wilson Road.
- An area that includes Turkey Trot Drive, Bruner Mountain Road, Pine Cone Lane, Lookout Lane, Taylor Mesa Lane, Spring Hollow Lane, Otter Trail and everyone in the Hidden Springs subdivision and along South Fattig Creek Road between the mine and 1035 South Fattig Creek Road or the old Brown Ranch.
At about 8:30 p.m., DES officials posted on their Facebook page a plea to residents to not call overwhelmed dispatchers to check on fires.
“Fire crews are working hard to get this fire shut down. The terrible winds have not helped in their efforts,” officials posted. “Currently, the fire is still headed to the south and has jumped Fattig Creek Road in the area close to the (Signal Peak coal) mine. Crews are trying to contain the fire in that area.”
DES officials earlier in the evening said multiple fires were burning all over the county. Another blaze near Melstone off High Five Road drew fire crews and air support. Four airplanes from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation assisted with battling the blaze. Officials said fire crews would work through the night.
The county fairgrounds was opened to house horses and other animals if needed, and donations like water and food could be taken to St. Benedict's Church. The Montana Red Cross set up a shelter at the Roundup Community Center at 700 Third Street West.
Some Musselshell County residents knew exactly what to do when the evacuation order came.
Leslie Clark packed items into her vehicle at their home along Old Divide Road.
“This ain't our first rodeo,” Mark Clark said. The family has lived on the property for more than 40 years.
Sue and Everett Engelhardt also live along Old Divide Road, but weren't planning on evacuating yet.
“Obviously we won’t get no sleep tonight,” Sue Engelhardt said.
In Rosebud County, officials ordered evacuations near Ashland because of an approaching fire, including the areas of Beaver Creek Road and Tongue River Road North and South up to the Ashland border, according to the local sheriff's department Facebook page.
At around 8 p.m., county officials ordered the evacuation of Ashland, and the nearby Red Shale area. The Red Cross and officials from Powder River County assisted with the evacuations.
The county has several other fires burning, the sheriff's office said, including a fire that crossed the Tongue River near Snider Creek Road and has burned into Custer County and a fire near Ingomar.
A fire sparked Wednesday afternoon at about 1:30 p.m. on the northeast corner Crow Indian Reservation grew to an estimated 10,000 acres, or about 15 square miles, in seven hours, said Jon Kohn, spokesperson for the Crow Agency BIA Fire & Aviation.
The fire spread into portions of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation over the border near upper Sarpy Creek north of Highway 212, driven by 52 mph gusts, 94 degree temperatures, and very dry 10% relative humidity, according to a press release from Tracy Spang, acting fire management officer.
Homes were not threatened Wednesday night, but the fire may still threaten ranches or homes Thursday, Spang said.
Spang likened the fire to the Sarpy Complex eight years ago in the same area. That fire burned more than 85,000 acres, or 133 square miles, in a day, and also headed south overnight to US 212 where it burned a trailer home and threatened other homes, according to the release.
"Plans tonight include positioning resources where they can do the most good protecting structures, and trying to head off this fire before it approaches buildings," according to the release. "Engines cannot go in front of a fire in high wind."
Highway 212 was closed at Lame Deer and Busby, except to area residents and fire personnel, according to the Northern Cheyenne BIA Forestry and Wildfire Management. The closure is mostly because of smoke.
Drivers were asked to seek an alternative route, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.
Parts of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation were evacuated as of about 6:30 p.m.
An evacuation order was put into place from Iron Bridge, the Rosebud subdivision, to the Crow-Northern Cheyenne reservation line.
A wind shift at about 6 p.m. began to push the fire south toward Highway 212, he said. The fire was an estimated 5 miles south of the highway. There are several houses along the the highway, said Randy Pretty on Top with Crow Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildfire and Land Management.
"That's our concern right now," he said.
BIA firefighters with both Crow and Northern Cheyenne, Bureau of Land Management, Big Horn County firefighters and local ranchers were all helping to fight the fire, he said.
High and changeable winds made the fire particularly difficult and dangerous to fight, he said.
Rosebud County also has several fires burning, according to the local sheriff's department Facebook page.
Those include a fire that crossed the Tongue River near Snider Creek Road and has burned into Custer County, a blaze near an Amish community on Beaver Creek Road, and a fire near Ingomar.
Two large fires were reported earlier in Judith Basin County, with smoke filtering down into Judith Gap and the Shawmut area, according to the Wheatland County Sheriff's Office Facebook page. A fire was also reported in Wheatland County, but few details were available.
"We also have a fire here in (Harlowton) we are currently working on so please be patient as dispatch is very busy so our conversations have to be brief in nature," according to a post on the Wheatland County's Facebook page.
Photos: September brings wildfires and smoke to Central and Eastern Montana
Smoke over Billings
Sun over the Rims
Smoke in downtown Billings
Smoke over Billings
Smoke blows into Billings
Fire glow near Roundup
Deputies block a road
Photos: A year later, Wyoming families are still recovering from a destructive wildfire
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