5 firefighters injured while fighting Montana wildfire
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Five firefighters were injured when a thunderstorm and swirling winds in central Montana blew a lightning-caused wildfire back on them, federal officials said Friday.
All five remained in medical facilities and were still being evaluated and treated a day after they were injured, Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Mark Jacobsen said. He declined to release the extent of the firefighters’ injuries or specify where they were being treated.
They had joined other crews working on the 1,300-acre (525-hectare) Devil’s Creek fire burning in rough, steep terrain about 36 miles (58 kilometers) northwest of the town of Jordan.
They were building a defensive fire line Thursday when the weather shifted, Jacobsen said.
“Numerous wind shifts and rapid rates of spread resulted in erratic fire behavior as thunderstorms and associated cells were passing over the area when the incident occurred,” he said.
Other firefighters in the area were able to call for help and the injured firefighters — three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crew members from North Dakota and two USDA Forest Service firefighters from New Mexico — were evacuated, Jacobsen said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Friday that crews from Utah and California were coming to Montana on Saturday to help fight fires.
Utah will send two task forces with a total of seven engines and 25 personnel, while California is sending a strike team with five engines and 20 personnel, Gianforte said.
The teams will be in Montana for two weeks, and Montana will pay their costs, the governor said.
A day earlier, Gianforte said he was mobilizing two National Guard helicopter teams to help respond to fires.
The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation requested the military support. One of the agency’s firefighting helicopters made a hard landing and burned last month. The crew got out safely.
Most of Montana east of the Continental Divide was under a warning Friday for conditions like high temperatures, gusty wind and low humidity that can lead to fires starting and rapidly spreading, the National Weather Service said.
Abnormally dry conditions amid a historic drought in the U.S. West also were contributing to the fire risk in Montana.
So far this year, fires have burned just over 244 square miles (631 square kilometers) of land, with 17 large fires active in the state as of Friday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Another firefighter injured in Montana this season after he was overtaken by flames July 16 is being treated for burns in Salt Lake City, officials said.
Dan Steffensen, 65, underwent a second operation Thursday to remove burned tissue, according to a Facebook update posted by Red Lodge Fire Rescue. He may be at the hospital for up to six months, the agency said.
Steffensen has been with agency since 2015. He works to reduce hazardous fuels around homes and responds to new fires.