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Flareup In Montana Burns Summer Homes

September 5, 1996

Driven by strong winds, a stubborn wildfire grew from 650 acres to 8,000 acres in Montana, burning about 20 summer cabins. Fires were dying down in five other Western states.

Firefighters called for reinforcements near Red Lodge, Mont., as high winds drove the fire down a canyon late Wednesday in the Custer National Forest in the south-central part of the state.

Winds died down early today and temperatures cooled, said fire information officer Jack Conner.

At least 35 people were evacuated from the cabins Wednesday near East Rosebud Lake, said Custer National Forest spokeswoman Sherry Milburn. Some campgrounds were closed.

``I had about 15 minutes to get out,″ said Marilyn Morden of Lincoln, Neb., who has owned a cabin in the area for 27 years. ``But really, the police didn’t want me to take that long. They said, `Just grab your dog and get out.‴

Low clouds prevented helicopters from bringing out some firefighters stranded today in a burned-out area where they fled.

One was flown Wednesday night to a Billings hospital, where he was treated for second-degree burns and listed in serious but stable condition. The other firefighter was treated for shoulder pain and released.

Elsewhere in the West, the worst wildfire season in 39 years continued to wind down. Eleven fires burned across 212,612 acres today in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, down from 52 fires over 490,188 acres a week ago.

Cool, damp weather has greatly eased fire conditions in Oregon, where more than 9,000 firefighters were at work when the blazes were at their peak a couple weeks ago.

``We’ve made significant headway over the last couple of days due to higher humidities and lower temperatures,″ said Doug Huntington, spokesman for the Northwest Coordination Center.

He said about 7,500 firefighters were still on duty in Oregon, but that number was dropping by at least 100 firefighters per day.

The firefighters have been called this summer to battle 86,533 blazes that have burned 5.8 million acres around the nation this year, marking the worst wildfire season since 6 million acres burned in 1957.

In northeastern Utah, high winds whipped a blaze near the Golden Spike National Historic Site into a 12,800-acre fire. The fire grew from 9,600 acres earlier in the day. Firefighters also battled three lightning-sparked blazes in northwest Colorado.

In northern Wyoming, a helicopter pilot was injured Wednesday when he crashed while helping fight a fire. He was treated and released from a hospital. The 1,000-acre fire eight miles south of Big Horn was 80 percent contained.

Also in Wyoming, windy conditions made for tough going against a 1,850-acre fire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

``It is not in good shape _ we’ve had gusts up to 50 mph,″ said forest spokesman Fred Kingwill.

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