Cooler Temperatures, Humidity Helps Crews Fight Montana Wildfires

Firefighters and homeowners got 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.

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 through Friday evening.

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

Firefighters were advised Friday to watch out for signs of hypothermia as a cold front moved through the area. Two weeks ago they were concerned about dehydration and heat stroke.

"It's awful cold here," Fire information officer Martin Johnson said.

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.

In northeastern Minnesota, a wildfire fueled by high winds and dry timber prompted authorities to call for a voluntary evacuation of a section of the scenic Gunflint Trail, which is lined by lodges and cabins. About 100 people left their homes Friday night.

"The fuel is very volatile and away it went," said Carson Berglund, a spokesman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, referring to dry timber. The fire had burned about 4,500 acres, or about 7 square miles; it was about 10 miles from a fire of about 1,000 acres, or 1 1/2 square miles, burning in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Drizzle and cooler temperatures were helping firefighters in California surround a 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. The Santa Ana winds are forecast Sunday.

About 1,700 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, which has sporadically forced closures and lane restrictions on Interstate 5.

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