5:36 PM EDT
FIREFIGHTERS WORK TO DEFEND SKI AREA; FIRE CLOSES U.S. 93
Mont. (AP) -- Smoke from a growing wildfire north of Missoula
forced officials to close part of U.S. 93 near Evaro again Thursday, as crews battled erratic wind and low humidity at more
than a dozen other blazes across the state.
Missoula County authorities closed the highway
from Waldo Road to about 2 miles north of Evaro. The
Black Cat fire was still estimated at 600 acres, but officials said it was torching and spotting and likely much larger.
Crews haven't been able to map
the blaze because of heavy smoke, said Paula Rosenthal, fire information officer. Evacuation orders remained in place for
more than 20 homes, and other homes in the area were on evacuation alert.
"It's been a frustrating situation
for us all around," Rosenthal said.
West of Choteau, the Fool Creek
fire has burned to the northern edge of the Teton Pass Ski Area, which features two lifts, a day lodge and a ski shop. Fire
information officer Rebeca Franco did not know the distance between the structures and the blaze.
The fire burning in the Lewis
and Clark and the Flathead national forests had blackened 42,614 acres, or about 66 square miles, and none of the blaze was
contained, Franco said from Choteau, about 30 miles away.
"Today is considered another
critical fire day because of the possibility of dry lightning," she said Thursday. Helicopters equipped to drop water were
unable to make morning flights because smoke reduced visibility dramatically, Franco said.
In the Seeley
Lake area northeast of Missoula, most of the hundreds
of people evacuated more than a week ago as the Jocko Lakes fire threatened were back in their homes, information officer Pete Buist said
Thursday. Merchants in the tourist town of Seeley Lake welcomed the midweek reopening of Montana 83, the main route through the community.
"In an area like this that is
so dependent on tourism at this time of year, it's a crushing blow to not have that traffic," Buist said.
Smoke remained heavy and air-quality
specialists from Missoula were scheduled to talk about health concerns Thursday night at a
The Jocko Lakes fire has burned 24,190 acres, or
about 38 square miles. Fifteen percent of the fire has been contained. Full containment is projected for Sept. 15, Buist said.
A fire southeast of Missoula continued to threaten homes along Rock Creek. Nearly 80 homes
and cabins remained evacuated Thursday, but people were allowed brief visits to check on their property. The blaze is one
of three fires in the Sawmill complex, measured at 41,705 acres on Thursday.
Another blaze in the complex
prompted evacuation notices Thursday for residents in the Upper Willow Creek area, who were alerted they could have to leave
if the Fisher Point fire continued moving east, said Pat Cross, fire information officer.
Far to the east, in the Columbus area of Montana, workers began
to demobilize on Thursday, a day after residents of a rural subdivision were allowed back into their homes threatened earlier
as a fire advanced. Crews built containment lines around the fire that rushed through the 60-home Pine Crest subdivision Tuesday
evening. The fire's estimated size Thursday remained 149 acres, said Jeff Bollman, fire information officer.
Evacuation orders for the subdivision
ended Wednesday evening.
Three homes sustained exterior
damage from heat and flames, but none were destroyed. Several outbuildings were lost.
South of Livingston, a fire burned to within
a few feet of a church camp near Mill Creek. The blaze, part of the renamed Hicks Wicked Complex, topped 21,000 acres Wednesday.
No structures were lost, said Marna Daley, a fire information officer.