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Wildfire hurdles Hungry Horse Reservoir

Wildfire hurdles Hungry Horse Reservoir

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Evacuations ordered in Martin City area

Erratic winds sent a column of smoke and firebrands across Hungry Horse Reservoir late Wednesday afternoon, lighting three new spot fires and prompting a partial evacuation of Martin City's outlying residents.

"We had a definite pick-up of fire behavior," Blackfoot Lake Complex public information officer Mike Lindbery said Wednesday night. "The winds laid the column of smoke over to the east, and embers carried for three-quarters of a mile."

Heavy smoke kept helicopters from getting at the new blazes, the largest of which was about 5 acres late Wednesday.

Instead, ground crews went in to confront the threat to Abbott Bay Campground and the few homes south of Martin City. Flames could be seen on both the east and west sides of Hungry Horse Dam, where a total 1,600 acres are burning in at least eight separate fires.

"The smoke is getting real close," said a man named Neil at the Deer Lick Saloon in Martin City on Wednesday evening. "In the past hour and half, I can't believe the number of fire-oriented trucks coming into town. The whole town is loaded."

The Flathead County Sheriff's Office evacuated about a dozen homes on the fringes of town and was still reviewing the situation late Wednesday night. Lindbery said ground crews appeared to have blocked the spread of the spot fires, leaving the need for a full evacuation of the small town in doubt.

Unfortunately, Thursday's weather forecast calls for a wind shift from the northwest to the northeast, meaning the fires could be pushed back toward inhabited areas and steep terrain.

That's also a concern for the team of fire engines patrolling Highway 2 between West Glacier and Essex, where several small fires in the Middle Fork Complex are burning on the north side of the Flathead River.

"Motorists were eye-level with helicopters that are trying to stop some embers from rolling downhill," said Robert Complex public information officer Carey Jones.

The Middle Fork Complex is up to just over 2,000 acres. Guests at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex couldn't see much evidence of the fires, but people driving through the community of Nyaak reported seeing flames on the hillsides Wednesday afternoon.

Other fires in the Glacier National Park area were relatively quiet Wednesday.

The Robert fire near West Glacier and Apgar grew about 500 acres to a total 46,448 acres Wednesday. It is about 65 percent contained, with a crew of 611 people. Northwest Area Command Center fire information officer Betty Higgins said the Robert fire appeared to be heading into terrain burned two years ago in the Moose fire, which has slowed its progress. National Guard troops joined the regular firefighters in mop-up areas Wednesday. Fighting the fire has cost $22.3 million to date.

The Trapper Creek fire north of the Loop on Going-to-the-Sun Road has burned 17,830 acres and is 65 percent contained. It is being monitored, but no ground crews were working on it Wednesday. It has cost $3.5 million.

In the northwest quadrant of the park, the Wedge Canyon fire has burned 46,126 acres and is 66 percent contained. It has a crew of 495 people and has burned up $26.3 million. The fire grew slightly in gusty winds Monday and Tuesday, but most of the activity was in directions away from structures or threatened areas.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com

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