Montana communities evacuated as wind pushes wildfire

August 17, 2021 GMT

FORT BELKNAP, Mont. (AP) — Authorities ordered evacuations on Tuesday among remote communities in north-central Montana as strong winds propelled a large wildfire toward inhabited areas.

A mandatory evacuation covered the former mining town of Zortman, which has about two dozen people, and the Pine Grove area on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, according to tribal officials.

Law enforcement officers planned to go door to door asking residents to leave, the Phillips County Sheriff’s office said on social media. Evacuees were told to go to the old National Guard Armory in Malta, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) away.

The evacuations came as the Pine Grove Fire northeast of Hays burned across 31 square miles (81 square kilometers) of timber and short grass by Tuesday afternoon. The fire was first reported Monday.

Residents of the reservation communities of Lodge Pole and Star Hill were told to be ready to evacuate, and the Fort Belknap Council declared a state of emergency.

The fire originated at a home that is the only structure known to have been destroyed, radio station KOJM reported.

An evacuation order for the town of Fort Belknap was lifted after a separate fire that threatened it Monday was brought under control by firefighters.

There were 25 large fires in Montana as of Tuesday morning, state officials reported. Since the beginning of the year, fires have burned around 1,200 square miles (3,100 square kilometers).

Officials estimate 50 residences have been lost this year.

The state has spent over $39 million from its fire suppression fund since July 1.