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Downed power lines spark wildfire near Missoula

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Downed power lines on Sunday started at least one fire in the Missoula area and may have been involved in another. 

Both fires were controlled by Monday, with firefighter patrols ongoing. No injuries were reported and no structures burned. Smoke from each fire was visible around the area.

Crews were dispatched at 3:47 p.m. Sunday to a small wildfire along Neil Drive, just south of U.S. Highway 12 about 6 miles west of Lolo. According to a news release from the Missoula Rural Fire District, the person who reported the fire said they heard "a loud 'pop' and looked outside to see a power line down with smoke and flames nearby." The district did not say whether the power line was the cause of the fire; the cause is "currently undetermined." 

Crews arrived on scene to find a wind-driven fire "threatening multiple homes." Montana Rural firefighters began structure protection efforts and were joined by U.S. Forest Service and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation wildland firefighters. The fire burned about 10 acres before being controlled Sunday evening. Crews were patrolling the area Monday.

The Missoula Rural, USFS and DNRC crews were aided by personnel from Florence Fire, Missoula County Sheriff's Office, Bureau of Land Management law enforcement, Missoula Emergency Services Inc. and Montana Electrical co-op. In total, 10 engines and three helicopters responded to the fire. 

Around the same time, firefighters also responded to a 4:02 p.m. report of a wildfire near an electrical substation just north of the Duncan Drive Trailhead on the west side of Rattlesnake Creek, about 2.8 miles north of downtown Missoula. The fire was caused by a downed power line, according to the Lolo National Forest. Crews from the forest, DNRC and the Missoula Fire Department arrived on scene to find a fire smaller than 1 acre exhibiting mild fire behavior with creeping and smoldering through grass and timber. The fire was fully contained by Monday, with crews continuing to mop up and patrol the area. 

A red-flag warning indicating extreme fire conditions was in place for Monday. Fire danger is very high — the second-highest of five levels and one level below extreme fire danger — on both the Lolo and Bitterroot national forests, and is extreme on the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

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Outdoors Reporter

Joshua Murdock covers the outdoors and natural resources for the Missoulian.

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