Wildfires on Blackfeet Res. force evacuations

AP News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2012 2:48 AM
Wildfires on Blackfeet Res. force evacuations

Officials say gusty winds are fueling major grass fires on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana that are prompting evacuations.

Blackfeet tribal spokesman Wayne Smith says that one fire started southeast of Browning just after 5 p.m. and burned about eight miles east to the community of Blackfoot.

He did not know how many acres had burned so far but said U.S. Highway 2 from Cut Bank to Browning was closed.

No injuries have been reported.

The Great Falls Tribune reports that the fires forced the evacuations of about 20 homes in a small community known as the Boarding School. KSEN-AM in Shelby says several homes east of Browning were also evacuated.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Tribal officials say gusty winds are fueling two major grass fires on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana.

Blackfeet spokesman Wayne Smith said Wednesday evening that one fire started southeast of Browning just after 5 p.m. and burned about eight miles east to the community of Blackfoot. He did not know how many acres had burned so far but said U.S. Highway 2 from Cut Bank to Browning was closed.

Another large fire was reported north of Browning at about the same time and was being spread by sustained winds of between 35 mph and 45 mph.

"Local police, fire and EMS crews are everywhere. Responding where they are able to," tweeted Shannon James Augare, a state senator from Browning. "Please keep these individuals in your prayers."

No injuries have been reported, but KSEN-AM in Shelby said the fires forced the evacuations of a boarding school and several homes east of Browning.

The cause of the fires wasn't immediately clear, although Blackfeet Law Enforcement Chief Greg Gilham told The Great Falls Tribune they might have been sparked by power lines that were blown over by high winds.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Zelzer in Great Falls said a 61 mph wind gust was recorded in Cut bank just before 6 p.m. Wednesday, and a 72 mph gust was recorded in Heart Butte south of Browning a few minutes later.

"There's a lot of reports in that range," he said.

Zelzer added that windy conditions were expected to continue through the night as a disturbance moves over the mountains.

"Sustained winds in that area, at least along the slopes of the Rockies, will stay pretty high," he said.