Montana wildfire forces evacuations
HELENA, Mont. – A state of emergency was declared in Montana on Sunday because of several large wildfires, including one that has crept to within a mile of several homes and destroyed at least one.Higher humidity and clouds were helping firefighters contain that nearly 28-square-mile blaze, which began Friday and rapidly grew, leading to evacuation orders for residents of about 200 homes.In addition to the destroyed home, another one was damaged, as well as a commercial building and seven other structures, said Pat Cross, a fire information officer. But no injuries were reported, and the fire grew little on Sunday.”The fire didn’t do much today in terms of moving,” Cross said. “We had a very good day.”The wind was largely blowing the blaze back onto itself Sunday. Weather was expected to favor firefighters Monday.”Tomorrow is supposed to be much like today, with a little more cloud cover,” Cross said. “The fire should behave again. It should be fairly quiet and lay down.”Wind-blown embers were still sparking spot fires up to 2 miles ahead of the main blaze near the popular getaway spots of Seeley and Placid Lakes, authorities said.Cross estimated containment at zero percent, “only because there isn’t a lower number.”Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer declared the state of emergency on Sunday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized federal money to help fight the blaze. FEMA will pay 75 percent of eligible state firefighting costs for the fire, such as the fire camp, equipment and supplies, agency officials in Denver said. The money does not cover damage to homes or other buildings.In northwestern Montana, about 50 homes ahead of a fire in the Flathead National Forest remained evacuated, and crews had to move their fire camp because the blaze burned to within 2 miles. Residents of the Good Creek area to the north may also be evacuated if the fire continues to grow, officials said.In California, crews battling an 88-square-mile wildfire roughly 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara County were getting about 50 additional fire engines Sunday, on top of the more than 100 already on the scene, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency. More than 2,300 people were fighting the blaze.The wildfire continued to grow Sunday, spreading to more than 56,200 acres, but officials were hopeful the blaze would move farther away from homes. It was 70 percent contained Sunday but full containment isn’t expected until Sept. 7, officials said.The month-old wildfire had changed direction Saturday, moving away from hundreds of rural homes and heading into an unpopulated area of dense vegetation, officials said. Evacuation orders remained in effect for about 650 people in the hamlet of Paradise and a camp for delinquent boys.Elsewhere, Michigan officials said Sunday that a wildfire in a remote area of the Upper Peninsula had pushed past fire lines and grown to about 10,000 acres, or more than 15 square miles, in dry, hot and windy weather.No injuries were reported, but several structures were threatened and a state highway was closed. No evacuations have been ordered, but at least five families had left their homes, state officials said.Officials said Sunday that it was about 20 percent contained, down from Saturday’s estimate of 30 percent.In the East, flames had spread through about 4 square miles of pine forest in southern New Jersey’s Wharton State Forest, about 25 miles southeast of Philadelphia. It was 70 percent contained by Sunday afternoon, said Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. No buildings had been damaged, she said.