Wildfires Cause State of Emergency in Montana

A state of emergency was declared in Montana on Sunday because of wildfires, including one that more than doubled in size and crept to within a mile of some of the 200 nearby homes that were evacuated.

Lighter wind and higher humidity were expected at the fire northeast of Missoula on Sunday, and the wind was now largely blowing the blaze back onto itself, said Pat Cross, fire information officer.

However, wind-blown embers were still sparking spot fires up to 2 miles ahead of the main blaze near the popular getaway spots of Seeley and Placid Lakes, authorities said.

"We're focusing on structure protection, establishing some anchor points and trying to get some fire line in on the south and east flanks," Cross said.

The wildfire started Friday and exploded to 8,000 acres, about 12 square miles, by late Saturday. On Sunday, it more than doubled to 18,000 acres — about 28 square miles.

Cross estimated containment at zero percent, "only because there isn't a lower number."

Incident commander Glen McNitt told The Missoulian newspaper late Sunday that he had reports that some homes or other structures had burned in the blaze, but said he had not been able to get crews into those areas to confirm the reports.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer declared the state of emergency on Sunday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized federal money to help fight the blaze. FEMA will pay 75 percent of eligible state firefighting costs for the fire, such as the fire camp, equipment and supplies, agency officials in Denver said. The money does not cover damage to homes or other buildings.

Authorities also closed a 30-mile stretch of Montana 83 for safety reasons, Cross said.

In northwestern Montana, about 50 homes ahead of a fire in the Flathead National Forest remained evacuated, and crews had to move their fire camp because the blaze burned to within 2 miles. Residents of the Good Creek area to the north may also be evacuated if the fire continues to grow, officials said.

In California, crews battling an 88-square-mile wildfire roughly 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara County were getting about 50 additional fire engines Sunday, on top of the more than 100 already on the scene, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency. More than 2,300 people were fighting the blaze.

The wildfire continued to grow Sunday, spreading to more than 56,200 acres, but officials were hopeful the blaze would move farther away from homes. It was 70 percent contained Sunday but full containment isn't expected until Sept. 7, officials said.

The month-old wildfire had changed direction Saturday, moving away from hundreds of rural homes and heading into an unpopulated area of dense vegetation, officials said. Evacuation orders remained in effect for about 650 people in the hamlet of Paradise and a camp for delinquent boys.

Elsewhere, Michigan officials said Sunday that a wildfire in a remote area of the Upper Peninsula had pushed past fire lines and grown to about 10,000 acres, or more than 15 square miles, in dry, hot and windy weather.

No injuries were reported, but several structures were threatened and a state highway was closed. No evacuations have been ordered, but at least five families had left their homes, state officials said.

Officials said Sunday that it was about 20 percent contained, down from Saturday's estimate of 30 percent.

In the East, flames had spread through about 4 square miles of pine forest in southern New Jersey's Wharton State Forest, about 25 miles southeast of Philadelphia. It was 70 percent contained by Sunday afternoon, said Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. No buildings had been damaged, she said.