HELENA – Fire managers took advantage of a lull in the weather to make headway on the state’s largest forest fires, and were able to reopen U.S. Highway 212 in southeastern Montana on Friday after it had been closed due to the 388-square-mile Ash Creek fire.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation also said that it had established a regional hub in Miles City to stage initial attack operations with the federal Bureau of Land Management. The agency said it hoped to better help local agencies responding to new fires – an effort to stop them before they get too large.
Fire officials said they were able to snuff out several new fire starts in southeastern Montana before they were able to cause any real damage.
“We’re dog-piling these fires regardless of where they’re at,” said Assistant Fire Management Officer Scott McAvoy.
The state’s largest fire was 70 percent contained as of Friday morning after it didn’t make any major runs on Thursday. Fire managers said the fire was active on the northeastern flank, but they were aided with rain on Thursday night as they reined it in.
Fire crews spent Friday building more fire lines along the active portion of the blaze, and mopping up elsewhere. Highway 212 near Broadus was open, but had reduced speed limits near the fire area.
The story was similar on the others four fires in the Southeastern Montana Complex of fires, where 463 fire personnel continued work on containment.
Fire officials said the most active fire was the Taylor Creek fire southeast of Ashland, which a day earlier made a push into the Mud Springs area with the help of strong winds. It was 20 percent contained by Friday, and so far had covered 71 square miles.
Forces were being demobilized off the Powerline Fire, 90 percent contained, and sent to the Taylor Creek fire. Two others were also nearly fully contained.
In southwestern Montana, firefighters said the 7.5-square-mile Pony Fire was 60 percent contained after little activity.
Firefighters taking advantage of cooler, more humid weather on Friday cautioned that high temperatures would be returning over the weekend and likely last into next week.