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Wildfires burning 6,000 acres in southwest Montana



Afternoon update: Winds up to 51 miles per hour have pushed the Bear Trap 2 fire across Highway 84 to the north and across the Madison River to the west. Travelers in the area are encouraged to choose alternate routes for safety concerns.

By Emily Stifler Managing Editor

NORRIS – An estimated 2,300 acres were burning in the Beartrap 2 Fire, as of 9 a.m. this morning. Approximately 100 firefighters are working to contain the blaze, which is just east of Norris along the Madison River and Highway 84.

Winds were blowing 25 miles an hour in the valley bottom this morning, with stronger gusts at higher elevations. Weather forecasts call for continued hot temperatures, low relative humidity and gusty winds in the fire area.

“Put together with dry fuels, that could be a recipe for very intense fire behavior,” said Terina Mullen a spokeswoman from the Western Montana District BLM Office.

Reported at 11:52 a.m. on June 25, the fire is burning on Bureau of Land Management and privately owned lands in brush, sage and timber. The fire is believed to be human-caused, most likely fireworks, Mullen said.

Because of the smoke in the area, it was hard to get an accurate size on the fire, however the incident commander told Mullen it was 10 percent contained.

Currently firefighters from the Forest Service, BLM, Montana DNRC and Madison County Volunteer Fire Departments are on the scene. An Incident Management Team, under the leadership of Incident Commander Stan Benes, has been ordered and will arrive this evening.

Highway 84 is not closed, but travel through the canyon will be slow as traffic is being piloted through the fire area. All recreation sides in the area are closed.

Other notable fires in the region include the 3,000-acre Pony Fire, which is 10 miles west of Pony in the Tobacco Root Mountains; the 740-acre lighting-cause Antelope Lane Fire, which is north of Whitehall in the Bull Mountains; and the 1,200 acre Corral Fire in the Scratch Gravel Hills north of Helena.

Teams from northern Idaho (Kusicko) assumed command of both the Pony and Antelope fires at 6 a.m. today. Air craft has been grounded again today on both these and the Bear Trap fire because of the high winds.

Fighting the Antelope Lane Fire are two 20-person hotshot crews, two regular crews from the Helena National Forest and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, and one water tender. The wind is “howling” in Whitehall mid-day today, with gusts at least 30 or 40 miles an hour, said Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest Service spokeswoman Arlee Staley.

Eight crews, three helicopters, two engines, and one water tender are fighting the Pony Fire. A mandatory evacuation of Mammoth and south Boulder to the University of Indiana Field Station has been in effect since noon yesterday. The cause of that fire is still under investigation. A public meeting will be held at the Pony Senior Citizen Center tonight (June 26) at 8 p.m.

This level of fire activity isn’t typical for this time of year, Mullen said.

Temperatures in some parts of the state are forecast to climb above 100 F. As a cold front moves in from the northwest, gusts may exceed 50 miles an hour. The approaching cold front should bring lower temperatures and higher humidities, Staley said, but no moisture.

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