Wildfires Force More Evacuations in Western Montana

Dozens more homes were evacuated Wednesday after high wind fanned wildfires (search) in western Montana, nearly doubling the size of one blaze overnight.

Fire bosses feared that conditions could worsen Wednesday.

About 10,000 firefighters were battling nearly three dozen large fires in Montana. The fires had charred about 300,000 acres and cost more than $100 million to fight, the Northern Rockies Coordination Group (search) said. At least eight of the fires were near Missoula and surrounding towns.

About 120 homes were evacuated Wednesday morning 35 miles west of Missoula where one group of fires had blackened 18,000 acres, 7,000 acres more than before the wind struck late Tuesday.

Near Lincoln, 75 miles east of Missoula, 110 homes were evacuated late Tuesday after the wind blew another wildfire into fresh timber stands.

Those homes all remained evacuated early Wednesday, said fire information officer Martie Schramm. She was among those who were ordered to leave their homes in the town of about 1,100 people.

"It's a pretty tense situation," said Schramm. "We're all kind of just watching. ... The fire just didn't want to lay down last night."

The fire near Lincoln had charred at least 9,500 acres. Air support was expected to arrive Wednesday for the first time, along with help from the Air National Guard, Schramm said.

The National Weather Service (search) said wind peaked at 51 mph in Missoula on Tuesday and fire officials said there were numerous reports of new lightning-caused fires.

Slurry bombers had to turn back because of the wind, and utility lines snapped.

Wind up to 40 mph was forecast for Wednesday.

There was better news for residents of an area about 9 miles west of Missoula, where a 7,300-acre blaze had destroyed three homes. Despite the wind, firefighters were able to keep the fire from expanding during the night, officials said.

Strong wind also was forecast Wednesday in western Wyoming, a key concern for firefighters working to contain a 15,800-acre wildfire that has kept the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park closed for a week.

Fire officials had hoped to reopen the highway from Cody, Wyo., to the park's eastern entrance sometime Thursday, but said that would depend on the weather and fire behavior.