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Fire near Montana lake destroys homes, triggers evacuations

August 1, 2021 GMT

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — A wind-driven wildfire destroyed more than a dozen homes, outbuildings and other structures around northwestern Montana’s Flathead Lake after the flames jumped over a state highway, authorities said Sunday

Evacuations had been ordered by the Finley Point/Yellow Bay Fire Department about 1 a.m. Sunday as winds pushed the fire across Highway 35 north of Polson and toward the lake.

People living in the fire’s path safely escaped, and no injuries were reported, said spokesperson C.T. Camel with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes fire division. As many as 20 structures were destroyed, Camel said.

High temperatures had contributed to the fire’s overnight expansion across an area of almost two square miles (five square kilometers), Camel said.

“It was 90 degrees at midnight,” Camel said. “We still had day-like fire behavior all through the night.”

The evacuation order included Finley Point, the Skidoo Lane area and houses along a seven mile stretch of Highway 35 north of Polson. The fire was detected on Saturday morning eight miles east of Polson and is believed to be human-caused.

A chance of heavy rain in the area was forecasted for Sunday.

In southeastern Montana, a fire that began last week in the Poverty Flats area northeast of Hardin grew to 103 square miles (267 square kilometers). The fire was burning in grass, sage brush and cottonwood trees along the Bighorn River and was about 20% contained Sunday.

Authorities believe the blaze was started by a burning coal seam. Underground coal seams can smolder for years if they are ignited by lightning or other causes.

On the Crow Indian Reservation, authorities said a person would be charged with arson in connection with a fire east of Lodge Grass. The fire threatened multiple homes and burned 24 acres (9.7 hectares) of grass and brush and destroyed a shed.