By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
A wildfire that has already burned 165,000 acres in southern Montana continues to force evacuations in some areas as it threatens homes and businesses.
The Richard Spring Fire was identified on August 8, about 10 miles southwest of Colstrip, Montana.
The town of Lame Deer, Montana, about 80 miles north of Sheridan, was evacuated Wednesday evening due to the ferocity of the blaze. Law enforcement agencies had previously evacuated the communities of Ashland, Muddy Cluster, and Rosebud Cut Across.
According to Rosebud County, Montana, Sheriff Alan Fulton, fire crews Thursday were working between Ashland and Lame Deer, because that section of U.S. Highway 212 was breached by the fire Wednesday evening. It is closed until further notice.
Firefighters have been unable to construct containment lines around any part of the fire.
The Red Cross has set up an evacuation shelter at the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School in Busby, as well as a Crow Nation and Northern Cheyenne Nation partner shelter in the town of Crow Agency.
Rod Dresbach, a spokesperson for the fire management team, said a number of homes have been threatened by the fire in the Highway 212 corridor. So far, fewer than 20 structures have been lost to the blaze, but they were all secondary buildings.
“The problem has been the wind,” Dresbach reported in a Facebook post. “The wind has been our enemy since day one of this fire.”
As of 6 a.m. on Thursday, the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 3 assumed command of the Richard Spring and Lame Deer fires. The Lame Deer Fire is significantly smaller, at less than 4,000 acres, and started two days after the Richard Spring Fire — but fire managers anticipate it will merge with the Richard Spring Fire soon.
According to InciWeb, the fire’s behavior is extreme, and is burning mainly in brush, short grass, and timber. The current weather conditions, high winds and low relative humidity, combined with high temperatures are expected to continue, encouraging the fire’s continued spread.
The blaze has affected power in the region, as well. The Tongue River Electric Cooperative in Ashland reported numerous electric lines have fallen due to the fire and warned residents that many of those fallen lines could be “hot.”
But communities are banding together to provide assistance to those displaced by the fire.
The City of Colstrip is offering free potable water; Talen Energy has set up a staging area at the Moose Lodge in Colstrip there to provide free meals and bags of ice.
And the Colstrip Parks and Recreation Department is open for free showers, as well as free daily use for those in communities affected by the fires.