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Homes evacuated due to wildfire north of Helena

July 27, 2019

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A wildfire led to the evacuation of about 100 homes north of Helena while fire crews halted work on a blaze in southwestern Montana after crews found unexploded artillery shells, officials said.

Fire managers made an aggressive attack on a fire north of Lake Helena Friday, using three air tankers and two helicopters. However, when the winds shifted Lewis and Clark County officials ordered the evacuations in an area north of the lake and west of the Missouri River.

Additional evacuations were ordered Saturday, including the Black Sandy and White Sandy campgrounds along the Missouri River, as a red flag warning took effect for low humidity and thunderstorms. The fire grew to about 100 acres (40 hectares).

“We are preparing for the worst-case scenario,” Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton told the Independent Record in Helena.

Emergency management officials said Saturday a bulldozer line had been built around the fire and aircraft continued to drop fire retardant, but no containment level has been established.

Dutton has said investigators believe the fire was human-caused.

South of Bannack State Park, firefighters were pulled off a lightning-caused fire Friday after the unexploded shells were found within the boundary of the 150-acre (60-hectare) fire. The Beaverhead County sheriff’s office and the Lewis and Clark County ordinance team removed the shells and were searching for others, the Montana Standard reported.

Meanwhile, a burnout has increased the size of a lightning-caused fire on the Flathead Indian Reservation from less than a square mile on Friday to 7.5 square miles (19 square kilometers) on Saturday. No buildings were threatened.

North of Missoula, a small fire is burning on a steep, rocky slope with limited ground access, fire managers said.

“As vegetation that’s holding the rocks burns away, rocks roll down,” Chris Johnson with the U.S. Forest Service told the Missoulian. The rocky terrain is also hampering efforts to dig lines around the 35-acre (14 hectare) fire, he said.

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