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Small safety burn escapes, scorches several acres

A fire set on private property up Grant Creek to reduce the risk of wildfire escaped onto public lands Saturday and ignited a hillside near a small neighborhood in Colorado Gulch.

Residents of the neighborhood had recently thinned timber and cleared brush.

Wind gusts of up to 33 mph late Saturday afternoon drove the fire into a heavily timbered area on public lands that was inaccessible to vehicles. Hand crews were sent up to build a fire line; air support was not available.

As of Saturday evening, flames had swept across about 10 acres and were spreading east toward the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area. Fire officials said they expected the fire to stay on the ground and conditions to improve by sunset.

About 30 state, federal and local firefighters and 12 engines and other apparatus were on the scene, said Kelly Dudley, a Missoula Rural Fire Department spokeswoman. Another six to eight smokejumpers were expected to arrive late Saturday.

Dudley said fire officials had not yet confirmed the point of origin, only saying it began on private property.

"It was a hazard reduction fire that got away," she said.

As of late Saturday, no structures were lost and none was threatened. Engines remained on the scene in case they were needed.

Mike Marbut, who lives on Lime Springs Trail, looked on as crews organized and parked firefighting equipment near his property. He said he wasn't worried about his home burning; he had plenty of open space around it. But he expressed some concern for his brother's place just over the ridge.

Steve Hayes and Wes Spiker, a neighbor, shoveled dirt over smoldering stumps and sprayed water from a garden hose across the blackened smoking landscape behind Hayes' home. With the exception of a large downed log, few trees burned.

The early season blaze illustrated the already dry conditions present on the forests, Dudley said.

"We would ask the public to please check the weather conditions before they start a fire," she said. "They are responsible if it gets away."

Reporter Jane Rider can be reached at 523-5298 or at jrider@missoulian.com.

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