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Crews Battle 180,00-Acre Mont. Wildfire

September 4, 2006

COLUMBUS, Mont. (AP) _ Fire crews battled to contain a wind-whipped wildfire in south-central Montana that has spread across 180,000 acres and burned 26 homes.

The fire made a late evening run on its west side, prompting evacuation orders for homes in the Susie Creek area south of Big Timber, said Gwen Shaffer, a fire information officer.

``We had crews in that area and they were close to buttoning things up there when the winds came up and the fire just took off,″ she said late Sunday. ``We’re sending additional crews and they’ll be working through the night.″

The fire is classified as the nation’s No. 1 firefighting priority. Risk to people and property, and the potential for a fire’s growth, are among the factors considered in establishing the rankings. They influence the allocation of crews and equipment.

There have been no reports of death caused by the fire, which has burned more than 281 square miles, nor reports of major injury to people.

``That’s the one good thing in all of this,″ Shaffer said. ``We haven’t had a single life lost and we haven’t even had any injuries to speak of.″

The fire, about 15 miles south of Big Timber, began with lightning Aug. 22 and has led to evacuation alerts for dozens of homes. The National Guard on Sunday continued to staff roadblocks restricting access to the fire area.

Wind pushed the fire to higher elevations Saturday and in some cases it leaped up to 100 yards, creating smaller fires. Crews dug trenches and burned land around a working ranch to create a fire barrier.

Rich Winget, spokesman for the American Red Cross’ Montana chapter, said a shelter has been established with 88 cots for those displaced. ``It was very windy and the fire spread relatively quickly,″ he said.

Other Montana fires burning Sunday included three fires in the Gallatin Mountains west of Emigrant. Together they had burned almost 18,000 acres, or over 28 square miles.

In Nevada, wildfires that have scorched hundreds of square miles of prime habitat has prompted an emergency antelope hunt and relocation of unprecedented scope, state officials said.

Nevada Department of Wildlife officials authorized a special hunt of 200 antelope and the relocation of up to 350 others after determining the blackened rangeland is unable to support the herd of more than 1,000 animals northwest of Elko, about 290 miles east of Reno.

Nevada ranks second nationwide behind only Texas in the amount of land charred by wildfires this year _ 1.13 million acres, or 1,777 square miles, according to the National Interagency Fire Council.


Associated Press writer Sofia Mannos contributed to this report.


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