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The West Mullan and Gold Creek fires continued to burn Saturday, and a break from hot, dry weather doesn’t appear imminent.

By Saturday evening, the West Mullan fire near Superior was 30 percent contained but had spread to 5,230 acres.

No changes were made to increase or lift evacuation orders Saturday, although some residents were allowed to return home Friday, said Meg Nemitz, fire information officer.

West Mullan Road is open east of Sunflower Lane; however, west of Sunflower Lane is open to residents only. Flat Creek Road is only open within Superior city limits, while East Mullan Road is open to the public. Big Eddy fishing access is closed.

When remaining evacuees will be able to return home is uncertain and depends on the fire activity, and concerns remain about hot spots, Nemitz said.

“It’s literally just day by day at this time,” she said.

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The roughly 800 people working on the fire continued their efforts to corral the flames Saturday, focusing on the Keystone Creek drainage area. Firefighters there worked to keep the fire on the east side of the drainage area and make sure no fire activity popped up on the west side. At the northwestern corner of the fire, firefighters continued to dig lines.

More of the same fire activity day and night is expected over the next several days, thanks to high temperatures and low humidity, Nemitz said.

The smoldering Gold Creek fire northeast of Missoula and near the Rattlesnake Wilderness, Lolo National Forest and Flathead Reservation boundaries continues to hold at 170 acres.

About 240 firefighters spent the day laying hose and mopping up at the fire, which is 35 percent contained.

Saturday’s hot, dry weather dried out unburned islands of fuel within the fire’s perimeter and encouraged group torching, said Mariah Leuschen, fire information officer.

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“So instead of just creeping and smoldering, which we were seeing the first part of this week … there is more active surface fire,” Leuschen said.

Firefighters worked to line remaining islands in the eastern portion of the fire with hose, while firefighters from the southern edge to the northwestern edge of the fire spent the day mopping up, extinguishing embers and taking down hazard trees.

Closures of the Gold Creek and West Fork Gold Creek trailheads, Primm Lake Trail 52 and the Porcupine Ridge Trail 504 remain in effect. Forest Road 126 at Cow Creek gate also is closed.

Despite the fires, air quality in Missoula, Frenchtown and Seeley Lake remained in good to moderate condition Saturday afternoon. However, the Missoula City-County Health Department predicted that a shift in winds to the northwest in the afternoon could push smoke from the West Mullan fire toward Missoula and that smoke from fires in Idaho would begin to make its way toward the Missoula area, as well.

The Department of Environmental Quality showed air quality conditions as good in Superior on Saturday afternoon, although inversions and winds have caused variable conditions.

For closure maps and fire updates, go to www.inciweb.org. To see air quality reports, go to www.co.missoula.mt.us/airqualityCurrentAirQuality/currentstatusreport.htm or to www.deq.mt.gov/FireUpdates/default.mcpx.

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Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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