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Wildfire brings overnight evacuations in Mont.; other fires burning in Idaho, Nevada

Authorities in western Montana roused people from their beds early Friday to flee an approaching wildfire, as thunderstorms sparked dozens more in blazes across the West in Idaho and Nevada.

Cooler temperatures and calmer winds helped firefighters control wildfires that flared up Thursday across eastern Washington in hot, gusty winds.

But in Montana, a cold front brought lightning and sparked eight fires on forest service and private land.

Ravalli County authorities began knocking on doors at 3 a.m. Friday, warning residents about three miles west of Hamilton that a fire in the Bitterroot National Forest was threatening their homes.

The Downing Mountain fire was reported at 8 p.m. Thursday and grew to 300 acres by Friday morning.

About 70 homes in the Blodgett and Canyon Creek areas have been evacuated and fire officials said residents of another 100 homes were warned they may have to leave.

"This is not an easy process for residents to be told at 3 a.m. that they must leave their homes which are currently threatened. Thankfully everyone has been very understanding and cooperative," said Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman.

Meanwhile, Helena National Forest officials hope cooler weather and higher humidity Friday will help slow the 2,800-acre Davis Gulch fire burning on Stemple Pass northwest of Helena.

Temperatures in the high 90s and strong winds Thursday afternoon helped blow a prescribed burn out of control, forcing the evacuation of more than two dozen homes.

Canyon Creek Fire chief Jason Grossman said residents in six of the homes and vacation cabins refused to leave. The buildings were not in immediate danger and firefighters were there to watch over the buildings, he said.

"We can't force them (to leave). They know the danger," Grossman said.

More than 100 firefighters tried to form an anchor behind the blaze and protect the homes, but there was very little they could do to contain the fire Thursday afternoon, said incident commander Greg Archie of the Montana Department of Natural Resources.

"The power of the fire is overcoming the power of the people. We have to change that soon," he said.

Winds were expected to reach 15 to 20 mph in Helena on Friday, with gusts to 45 mph.

In Idaho, thunderstorms sparked dozens of new wildfires on state and federal lands, adding to several significant blazes that have forced evacuations and threatened homes.

The 60 lightning-caused blazes that erupted Thursday afternoon in southern Idaho and the Boise, Idaho, area come after an estimated 250 to 300 residents were evacuated from the Tamarack Resort area Thursday. The Hurd Fire there more than doubled in size from 550 acres late Thursday to nearly 1,300 acres, or two square miles, early Friday, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Laura Pramuk.

Lighter winds Friday should allow crews to hold the fire above housing subdivisions, she said.

The Long Butte Fire that has burned nearly 480 square miles in the southern Idaho desert was 70 percent contained.

In northeastern Washington, a fire near the town of Arden, Wash., grew to about 1,000 acres, the state fire marshal's office said Friday. About 145 homes were threatened by the fire, including 65 in which the residents were ordered to evacuate.

The fire burned two homes and seven outbuildings Thursday, said Albert Kassel of the state Department of Natural Resources. About 400 firefighters were using bulldozers to try and contain the fire, which started when a tree fell on a power line.

A wildfire in rugged country near the Columbia River town of Lyle, Wash., grew to 1,200 acres by Friday morning, Kassel said. Residents of 40 homes faced mandatory evacuations, and people in another 50 homes were told to prepare to evacuate, he said. One outbuilding had burned.

"That one is still growing," Kassel said of the flames.

The Fish Hatchery fire near Republic, Wash., in Ferry County grew to 650 acres, but about two-thirds had been surrounded by a fire line, Kassel said. Firefighters were wary about high winds predicted in that area, he said. No structures have burned.

There were no reports of injuries in the fires, which blew up after winds gusted to more than 40 mph Thursday afternoon.

Lightning also sparked two small wildfires Thursday in the Mount Charleston recreation area just outside Las Vegas. No structures are threatened and there are no evacuations.