More Montana National Guard soldiers to help with wildfires

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said Tuesday that he would increase the number of National Guard troops helping respond to wildfires.

There are 84 soldiers deployed to help firefighting efforts as the state faces record drought and heat that have made it easier for fires to start and tougher to put them out. Gianforte ordered six additional crews to help as fire activity increased, bringing the total number of soldiers to 200 by this weekend.

Montana had 24 large fires as of Tuesday. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,800 fires have ignited in the state, burning 750 square miles (1,940 square kilometers) — 400 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) of which have burned since July 26.

A historic drought and recent heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Officials estimate that about 38 homes have been destroyed this year. Around 600 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes as of Tuesday because of nine fires.

A fire that started Sunday northeast of Denton in central Montana destroyed at least four structures after chewing through more than 32 square miles (83 square kilometers), fire officials reported Tuesday.

In northwestern Montana, authorities began allowing some residents back to an area around Flathead Lake where winds pushed a fire through an inhabited area over the weekend, burning up to 20 houses, outbuildings and other structures. People who returned were warned that they could have to leave again on short notice.

Of the state’s $105 million fire suppression fund, over $19 million have been spent since July 1, officials said.