The Richard Spring fire is holding steady at just over 170,000 acres, and has reached 53% containment.
An update provided by the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team is good news for fire-weary Eastern Montana residents. Fire crews spent the night securing lines along the northern, western, and eastern perimeters of the fire and hitting hot spots.
The fire, which was determined to have been caused by burning coal seams, gained just over 500 acres in size overnight — a major improvement over previous rates of growth.
Earlier in the week, high winds in the area were impacting the ability of firefighters to contain the fire and prevent additional spread. "Winds are what pushed this fire so big, so fast in the beginning," said IMT public information officer Jeni Garcin.
"We've been fortunate in that the winds have died down a little bit," said the IMT's Katie Julian.
Now, firefighting teams are turning their attention to the looming threat of rising temperatures. "The biggest concern is with the weather changing back to some hotter and drier conditions over the next few days," said Garcin. The high heat and low humidity could make it easier for the fire to spread along desiccated vegetation, hampering firefighting efforts.
The overall improved condition of the fire has led the Rosebud County Fire Warden and Rosebud County Sheriff to downgrade the evacuation status for Ashland, from the previous level three to level one. "We've had more containment of the fire, and they feel it is safe to downgrade the evacuation status," said Kourtney Haus of the Rosebud County DES.
While residents are allowed to return to Ashland, the stage-one evacuation warning advises them to be ready to evacuate again at any time.
For those in other areas that still have full evacuations in place, such as Lame Deer, Muddy Cluster, and the Rosebud cut across, evacuees may head to the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School in Busby or the multi-purpose building at the Crow Agency. The Red Cross has set up evacuation shelters at both locations.
No additional structures were reported lost overnight, keeping the count at 12 secondary structures and no primary residences. Additionally, no injuries have been reported as a result of the fire.
Fire managers will hold a public information meeting Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Littlewolf Capitol Building in Lame Deer.