Cooler Weather Helps Firefighters Contain Blazes in Montana, California

Firefighters and homeowners got the cooler temperatures and hint of rain Friday to help douse a wildfire that has forced people out of homes and cabins.

"This is exactly what we need," fire information officer Marq Webb said as morning clouds hung low over the blaze. "We're looking at this being a very productive day on the fire."

The fire blew up Wednesday to nearly 32,000 acres or 50 square miles, destroying two cabins and a shop. Residents of about 325 homes and cabins were told to evacuate.

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Some evacuation orders in Park and Sweet Grass counties were lifted late Thursday as the cold front brought cooler temperatures, higher humidity and softer winds that helped calm the fire. Showers were forecast Friday.

It was unclear how many homes remained on evacuation status, said Kathy Thompson, another fire information officer.

Workers returned Friday to the East Boulder Mine, two days after it was evacuated.

"There's still a degree of concern, but we're seeing conditions that are much better than just 24 hours ago," information officer Al Nash said.

Another wildfire south of Big Timber remained at 208,000 acres and was 80 percent contained, fire officials said. A wilderness fire about 45 miles southwest of Choteau led to the evacuation of about 20 cabins and campgrounds.

Drizzle and cooler temperatures were also helping firefighters in California surround a sluggish wildfire before hot, dry Santa Ana winds this weekend that could set it raging again.

Nearly 48 square miles in Los Padres and Angeles national forests have burned. The fire was 30 percent contained.

The cooler weather has allowed crews to carve or improve fire lines close to the flames without the risk of being overrun. Firefighters were flown into inaccessible terrain Thursday to tackle problem areas, said fire Capt. Glenn Skaggs of the Angeles National Forest.

"The big push is the next 48 hours," Skaggs said. The Santa Ana winds are forecast Sunday.

About 1,700 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, which nearly doubled in size this week because of hot weather. The 30,639-acre blaze near Castaic has sporadically forced closures and lane restrictions on Interstate 5; seven of eight lanes were open early Friday.

Rain also fell on wildfires in Washington state, and firefighters tackled hot spots in preparation for warmer temperatures forecast to return.