The Matt Staff Road fire 12 miles east of Helena grew slightly to 1,587 acres Saturday with 38% containment, authorities said, noting they hoped to make “significant progress” throughout the day thanks to a break in the weather.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s County Assist Team, which assumed command over the fire on Friday, said the cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
They said the morning’s cooler temperatures and increased humidity should help with firefighting efforts and work to contain the fire, which was listed at 1,538 acres late Friday.
“Thanks to the efforts of the responding local volunteer fire departments during initial attack, we are in a good place to make significant progress on the fire today,” Dave Hamilton, DNRC incident commander, said in an online posting Saturday.
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DNRC Fire Information Officer Wyatt Frampton said rain aided firefighters in making gains against the blaze.
"The rain definitely helped, plus the fact we have a lot of hardworking people out there, too," he said.
There are now 135 personnel assigned to the fire that started Thursday afternoon. The cause, believed to have been sparked by people, is under investigation.
Coordinating agencies include Lewis and Clark and Broadwater counties, Montana DNRC, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
All evacuations have been lifted, but roads in the fire area are open to local traffic only, officials said. They also said no structures have been lost.
Officials said their objectives for the day were to keep fire growth to a minimum, build a direct line where it is safe and begin mop-up operations.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said the fire may have been sparked by dragging chains or a cigarette butt, given the fire started close to the road. He said Saturday investigators were trying to determine the point of origin, but some of the firefighting attempts may have covered over those details.
The fire started very close to Spokane Creek Road, just off U.S. Highway 12 near state Highway 284, and quickly spread to a wheat field.
It originally burned grassland, then crested the ridge between East Helena and Canyon Ferry Lake and began to burn brush.
Dutton said Friday that Gary Dobler and his son saw the fire from their farm and raced to get tractors and tilling equipment.
"They plowed right in front of this quickly spreading fire to stop the advancement to the south in the wheat field," he wrote on Facebook. "There is no way they could get in front of it."
"Sometimes common people like you and me do heroic acts, this is one of them," Dutton said.
Anyone with information should call 406-447-8293 and talk with Deputy James Coppola. Dutton said the U.S. Forest Service and the Helena Interagency Fire Investigation Team are conducting the investigation.
Frampton said extreme fire danger exists through Montana and urged people to go to mtfireinfo.org for tips on how to prepare against fire. For more on the Matt Staff Road fire, go to https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/8309/
This story will be updated.