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Cooler temperatures and high humidity help in containing South Moccasin Fire, Coal Bank Fire continues to grow

An airplane drops water on the South Moccasin Fire burning northwest of Lewistown, MT.
Kurt Hansen
/
InciWeb
An airplane drops water on the South Moccasin Fire burning northwest of Lewistown, MT.

Updated at 6:10 p.m. Thursday

Cooler temperatures in the 50s to low 60s and higher humidity are helping firefighters contain the South Moccasin Fire burning northwest of Lewistown in Fergus County.

The nearly 13,000-acre fire is about 80% contained as of Thursday afternoon. The County Assist Team from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation reports interior pockets of heavy timber and short grass will continue to burn out, sending up smoke plumes visible from Lewistown and the surrounding areas. The southeastern edge of the fire remains the most active area.

The Northern Rockies Coordination Center reports 33 structures are threatened by the fire. Five structures have been destroyed including YPR’s transmitter for the Stanford-Lewistown area, but no homes have been destroyed.

Montana Highway 81, the Denton Highway, remains closed except for local residents.

The cause of the South Moccasin Fire remains under investigation.

And in southeast Montana, the Coal Bank Fire burning 18 miles southwest of Ashland in Rosebud County continues to grow. It’s now estimated at 6,100 acres and is 45% contained. Multiple agencies totaling 112 personnel are on scene. The Northern Rockies Coordination Center reports 13 structures are threatened but none have been destroyed.

The Coal Bank Fire was first reported Tuesday morning and was started by a coal seam.

Updated at 5:35 p.m. Wednesday.

The South Moccasin Fire burning northwest of Lewistown in Fergus County grew by more than 1,000 acres overnight, pushed by wind shifts. The fire is nearly 12,800 acres, burning in heavy timber and short grass, mostly on private land.

Five structures have been destroyed, including YPR’s transmitter that services the Stanford-Lewistown area. The Northern Rockies Coordination Center reports 33 structures are threatened, although the Fergus County Sheriff’s Office has not issued any pre-evacuation orders. The fire has not destroyed any primary residences. It is 45% contained. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

County, state and federal fire crews have been successful in keeping the fire south of Montana Highway 81, the Denton Highway. The road continues to be closed from mile marker 24.8 to mile marker 42, including the junction with U.S. Highway 191.

Unseasonably warm temperatures in the upper 70s, gusty ridgetop winds up to 35 miles per hour and low humidity continue to drive the fire’s behavior.

A Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation County Assist Team took command Tuesday morning. Helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and ground resources are part of the firefighting efforts.

Residents and visitors are asked to avoid the area as much as possible to allow firefighters to continue their efforts unheeded.

In southeast Montana, the Coal Bank Fire burning 18 miles southwest of Ashland also grew by nearly 1,000 acres overnight. The fire is now 6,100 acres. The Northern Cheyenne Fire Agency reports the fire has crossed into the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

The Coal Bank Fire is showing active fire behavior with wind-driven runs and spot burning in areas affected by previous fire activity. The Northern Rockies Coordination Center reports 13 structures are threatened but none have been destroyed. Federal, state, county and local resources including hand crews, engines and aircraft are working the fire lines.

`The Coal Bank Fire was first reported Tuesday morning and was started by a coal seam. The fire is 0% contained.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.