Fire Threatens Homes in Montana; 48 Large Fires Burning Across U.S.

Helicopters and air tankers joined firefighters working to save homes from a fast-moving brush fire in Montana as dozens of wildfires scorched the West on Wednesday.

The fire in western Montana was about 5 square miles and threatened about 20 residents outside of Polson, said Rich Janssen, fire information officer for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Two homes were temporarily evacuated, but residents were later allowed to return.

Some 120 firefighters fought the blaze Wednesday.

The National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho, was tracking 48 large fires across the nation. Fires were burning in nine western states and the Florida panhandle.

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A large wildfire on the Idaho-Nevada border had burned nearly 975 square miles by Wednesday. The fire was about 30 percent contained, said Mark Wilkening, fire information officer.

Prosecutors in California were expected to decide by next week whether charges should be filed against a landowner in a three-week-old Santa Barbara County wildfire.

The 48-square-mile blaze was started July 4 by workers grinding metal to repair a water pipeline on a private ranch in Bell Canyon, just west of the Los Padres National Forest boundary and Zaca Lake.

Also Wednesday, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a commission to examine whether bureaucracy contributed to a fire near Lake Tahoe that destroyed 254 homes last month.

Residents have said they believe the complicated layers of government agencies and restrictions impaired fire-prevention efforts. Some homeowners said they were not even allowed to clear pine needles from their properties.

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