Rain Helps Firefighters in Montana

Rain fell over much of western Montana (search) Saturday, clearing the sky of smoke and bringing relief to thousands of firefighters trying to control blazes that have blackened more than 400,000 acres.

"It's going to give the fire crews a breather," said Susan Rinehart, information officer for the Northern Rockies Coordination Group (search). "You still have very serious dry fuels out there."

Some parts of western Montana received more than half an inch of rain from late Friday into early Saturday, the state's first significant rainfall in a month.

In the Missoula (search) area, which is virtually surrounded by fires, the rain helped clear smoke that had been sending people to hospitals.

The Forest Service (search) said it has spent more than $100 million fighting dozens of fires in Montana this summer. A number of blazes in eastern and central Montana have been contained, including a 38,000-acre fire near Billings.

Crews in Oregon took advantage of cool, damp weather Saturday to fortify defenses for the resort town of Camp Sherman (search) and Black Butte Ranch, a nearby golf resort community, before the return of dry weather.

The 300 or so residents of Camp Sherman were evacuated on Thursday but were told they could return for three hours Sunday to collect essentials that may have been left behind.

Camp Sherman is about four miles from a group of fires that had charred 24,000 acres in three days in the Deschutes National Forest (search) of central Oregon. The blaze had destroyed eight cabins and an auditorium at a campground near Round Lake, along with outbuildings near the Hoodoo Ski Area.

In western Wyoming, crews aided by water-dropping helicopters made headway Saturday against a 14,500-acre blaze in Shoshone National Forest, about 25 miles southwest of Cody. Crews worked to keep the fire away from several homes and dude ranches on the south fork of the Shoshone River, but no evacuations were ordered.

Officials in northwestern Wyoming hoped to complete firebreaks ahead of two blazes to keep them from leaving Yellowstone National Park (search) and threatening private property.

The fires, which together had burned 20,500 acres in eastern Yellowstone, were 25 percent contained, information officer Greg Thayer said.

Yellowstone officials said the park's east entrance, which had been closed for about a week and a half because of fire, would reopen on a limited basis Sunday. The road will be open for three hours in the morning and three in the evening for the foreseeable future, fire information officer Peter Frenzen said.