Wildfire grows in Montana, but ski area evacuation lifted

AP News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2015 12:15 AM
Wildfire grows in Montana, but ski area evacuation lifted

RED LODGE, Mont. (AP) — A wind-driven wildfire burning in southern Montana has grown but officials have lifted the evacuation of a ski area.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jeff Gildehaus said Saturday night that the blaze a few miles west of Red Lodge had grown to 700 acres, with no containment. It was reported at 200 acres in the afternoon.

The fire driven by winds gusting 35 to 50 mph moved into the Custer National Forest, where the Red Lodge Mountain Resort ski area is located.

He says that the decision to evacuate the ski area was made about 2:30 p.m. as a precautionary move.

But Gildehaus said hours later that people were free to return.

He said the winds had eased somewhat by nightfall and were expected to continue that course through the night.

He wasn't sure how many people had been evacuated, but he estimated about 500.

Dozens of firefighters were battling the blaze.

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

Authorities evacuated a ski lodge in southern Montana on Saturday because of a wind-driven wildfire heading toward it.

The wildfire was reported about 1:45 p.m. Saturday and had burned an estimated 200 acres of grass and timber about 4 miles west of the community of Red Lodge, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jeff Gildehaus said.

The fire began on open private land, but it was driven by winds gusting 35 to 50 mph into the Custer National Forest, where the Red Lodge Mountain Resort ski area is located.

"There's snow between the ski area and the fire and the timber. But it's also a solid run of timber from where the fire is to the ski area," Gildehaus said. "So it gets up in the trees and starts running the crowns of the trees and it starts advancing toward the ski area."

The decision to evacuate the ski area was made about 2:30 p.m. as a precautionary move and because there was just one road for firefighters and skiers to use, he said.

Gildehaus wasn't sure how many people were evacuated, but he estimated about 500.

No one answered the telephone at the ski area Saturday afternoon. The resort posted on its Facebook page that guests were safe and being escorted down the mountain by law enforcement.

The fire burned around rural homes, but no structures were damaged, Gildehaus said.

Wildfires in the area at this time of year are unusual, he said.

"But down in the low elevation, there isn't any snow and things are pretty dry," Gildehaus said. "We haven't really had any green-up yet where grasses turn green. We got all the dry grass from last year, and things are pretty dry."

Other wildfires were reported elsewhere Saturday in Montana and northern Wyoming.