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Progress varies on Helena area forest fires

Progress varies on Helena area forest fires

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Forest officials said Friday that Woods Creek Fire has grown to nearly 400 acres.

The Woods Creek Fire in the Big Belt Mountains north of Townsend was estimated Friday to be nearly 400 acres and moving west, officials with Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest said.

The fire, caused by lightning, was discovered July 10 near Boulder Lakes. Its initial size was estimated to be about half an acre in sub-alpine fir and lodgepole pine. On July 11, a closure was issued for nearby trails to protect the public. The fire is moving west of the Boulder basin. 

There was no estimate of containment listed for the fire.

Fire officials on Friday updated progress made with fires that have blanketed the area. Some reports brought good news while others showed their was still work to be done.

On Friday night, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) said it working to contain the Harris Mountain Fire 10 miles southeast of Cascade. The Harris Mountain Fire is estimated to be 550 acres and 0% contained. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said the fire, reported Friday afternoon, is on private and Bureau of Land Management property. One residence had been evacuated as of Friday afternoon and pre-evacuation warnings were given to several ranches.

The U.S. Forest Service said firefighters and aerial resources from Cascade and Meagher counties, Montana DNRC, the Albuquerque Zone Type III Incident Management Team, the Southern Area Incident Management Gold Team and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest have contained six new fire starts in the past 24 hours in and around the Belt Creek-White Sulphur Springs Ranger District.

In Meagher County that included the Corral Fire and Yankee Jim Fire in the Castle Mountains, the Sky Peak Fire and the Cottonwood Fire.

In Cascade County, the Haystack and the Sawmill Gulch fires have been contained.

Officials said the Balsinger Fire, which was sparked by lightning July 8 about 7 miles west of Neihart, is now at 2,507 acres. Containment is estimated by Oct. 29. They said 189 firefighters are at the scene. The nearby Ellis Fire, 20 miles northwest of White Sulphur Springs, was listed Friday at 1,277 acres and 40% contained.

The Ellis and Balsinger fires are being managed together as the Divide Complex Fire.

Officials said the American Fork Fire in the northeast Crazy Mountains is now at 5,727 acres. This fire, 24 miles southwest of Harlowton started July 17 and was caused by lightning. It is expected to be contained by Oct. 15.

Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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