Wildfires Rage Across Central Montana

Neighbors formed impromptu firefighting brigades Tuesday to help defend isolated homes against a cluster of fires burning 105,000 acres in north-central Montana (search).

Rising temperatures and wind Tuesday threatened to whip the fires back to life after a one-day pause when the blazes gained about 1,000 acres.

Hundreds of firefighters had so far succeeded in protecting buildings, including the farm complex where the anti-government Montana Freemen (searchholed up in a 1996 confrontation with federal agents.

A single outbuilding burned, but 75 buildings were at risk, officials said Tuesday.

Tempers also were rising. Some residents blamed the Bureau of Land Management (searchfor one fire, and criticized the interagency management team that was directing more than 400 firefighters in the effort to corral the fires.

The fire started on bureau land and could have been stopped at 20 acres, but bureau authorities would not allow residents to help suppress it, said Ross Childers, who had two ranches in danger.

He estimated he had lost 8,000 acres of pasture for his cattle. He did not know if any cattle had died. Childers' ranches, like many in the area, include some land leased from the bureau.

Trudie Olson, public affairs director for the bureau in Billings, said she was not familiar with Childers' complaints. She said that the bureau has aggressively attacked all new fires when spotted.

Elsewhere in the West, officials in California's San Luis Obispo County determined that three houses and several outbuildings had been destroyed in a blaze near the community of Santa Margarita. The fire, which charred 1,200 acres, was 85 percent contained Tuesday.

In Wyoming, firefighters worked Tuesday to protect six homes about a mile from a blaze in Johnson County and three ranches about a half-mile from the flames. The fire had nearly doubled in size overnight to 1,300 acres and was only 10 percent contained, fire information officer Lesley Collins said.

Large fires also were active Tuesday in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Washington, the National Interagency Fire Center said.