Montana ski area back in operation after Saturday evacuation
RED LODGE, Mont. (AP) — A southern Montana ski area resumed normal operations Sunday and weather conditions improved, allowing firefighters to attack wildfires that ignited the previous day in the state and northern Wyoming.
“With the spring conditions, the snow is pretty good,” Jeff Carroll, spokesman for the Red Lodge Mountain, said Sunday morning.
A windy, warm, dry Saturday caused ideal wildfire conditions that normally aren’t seen until summer in the Northern Rockies.
Early Saturday afternoon, a wildfire started about 4 miles west of the community of Red Lodge and was driven by strong winds into the Custer National Forest where the ski area is located, forcing evacuation of the slopes.
Carroll said about 650 skiers were evacuated as a precaution.
Winds died down later Saturday and the fire did not get any closer than about 3 miles from the ski area, he said.
“So it wasn’t up here on the mountain,” he said. “It didn’t really affect our operations at all. ... But it is uncommon for it to occur in the area of the ski resort during the ski season.”
The ski area offered evacuated skiers vouchers as compensation.
Red Lodge Mountain closes for the season on April 5.
The fire has burned just over 1 square mile. There was no containment as of Sunday afternoon, but weather conditions were much improved with less wind and cooler temperatures, helping firefighters, officials said.
“We’re making good progress,” Jeff Gildehaus, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, said. “The weather is helping.”
Gildehaus said officials have determined that the fire was human caused but he couldn’t elaborate beyond that because the investigation was continuing.
North of the Red Lodge fire, another wildfire burned about 4.6 square miles of mixed timber and prairie in a rural area about 30 miles west of Billings.
Fire spokeswoman Crystal Beckman said the fire forced the evacuation of part of a rural subdivision and destroyed two structures, including at least one home. It also forced closure of Interstate 90 for a time Saturday evening because of heavy smoke, she said.
Firefighters made progress in attacking the fire on Sunday thanks to calmer conditions.
While there was no containment yet on the fire Sunday afternoon, Beckman said there was no additional growth or major burning.
Beckman said winds weren’t expected to kick up again until Tuesday.
In northern Wyoming, a wildfire damaged an outbuilding near the city of Sheridan before it was controlled.