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Wildfire

Fires across Montana prompt evacuations and closures

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Brittany Keeler
/
Cascade County Sheriff's Department
Fire in Gibson Flats near Great Falls, Dec. 01, 2021.

Wind-driven fires in the several areas of the state have prompted evacuations and closures as unseasonably warm, dry weather continues across Montana.

The town of Denton in Fergus County in central Montana is under an evacuation order because of the fast-moving West Wind fire. Residents have been instructed to go to an evacuation shelter run by the Red Cross of Montana at the Lewistown Civic Center. According to the Fergus County Sheriff’s Office's Facebook page, the evacuation status for Denton and the surrounding area will be lifted at noon Thursday.

The 7,000-acre blaze was first reported late Tuesday night along Highway 80 north of Stanford and was quickly pushed east across the highway toward Denton. Strong winds quickly pushed the fire east across 80 toward Denton.

Denton Public Schools announced on Facebook Wednesday afternoon it had evacuated following a recommendation by Fergus county Disaster and Emergency Services. Denton Public Schools remain closed on Thursday.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation reports the West Wind fire is human caused. The Fergus County Sheriff’s Office is urging people to stay out of the region.

In the Gibson Flats area south of Great Falls, flames pushed by strong gusty winds and record temperatures destroyed nearly 30 structures, threatened several others and forced multiple evacuations.

The fire was first reported at 2:41 a.m. Wednesday morning. A cause has not yet been determined

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Great Falls Fire Chief Jeremy Jones said the 120-acre fire started as a grass fire.

"It rolled down the hill through pasture land, got into some outbuildings and vehicle storage, and then got into the Gibson Flats neighborhood," he said.

Jones says 11 homes, 7 garages and 11 outbuildings have been destroyed. Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter says there have been no injuries or deaths but he did report one deceased chicken.

Around 75 firefighters from multiple agencies were on scene Wednesday morning; Jones said he expects several fire engines to remain until Thursday.

An evacuation center has been set up at Great Falls Central Catholic High School.

A roughly 500-acre fire near Browning that led to the evacuation of about 100 people Wednesday morning in the community of Blackfoot is fully contained.

Blackfeet Fire Management dispatcher Jennifer Arnoux says firefighters now are extinguishing hot spots. She says there are no reported injuries, but several outbuildings and vehicles were burned.

The Cowboy Fire, pushed by strong winds east of Browning and south of Great Falls, was first reported at about 4:30 Wednesday morning.

Tribal offices and Browning Public Schools closed Wednesday due to the high winds and fire danger.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

DNRC says as of Wednesday afternoon there are 17 active wildfires in Montana, 4 started within the last 24 hours.

The National Weather Service has issued high wind warnings through tomorrow morning for northwest, north central, central and south central Montana. High winds make fires difficult to contain.

Updated: December 1, 2021 at 3:34 PM MST