Montana residents flee blaze

BY HELEN CHUNG | GALLATIN NATIONAL FOREST, MONTANA | October 1, 2001


At least 30 families just outside the Gallatin National Forest were forced to flee their homes over the weekend as a 4,000-acre blaze burned within a mile from residences. The evacuees were allowed back only briefly to claim some belongings.

The Purdy Fire was burning just south of the town of Bozeman, and Bozeman residents were cooking meals for evacuees, many of whom were staying with friends and family.

Two more subdivisions -- or some 65 additional homes -- may also be evacuated.

Almost 300 firefighters were either on the lines or called to assist, along with four helicopters and four air tankers. Six additional helicopters, including two sky cranes, also were ordered, along with other equipment, said information officer Pat McKelvey.

Volunteer fire departments throughout the Gallatin Valley were activated.

The blaze, which was started by lightning Wednesday, spread quickly into a forest fire south of Bozeman, fueled by dry winds and 80-degree temperatures.

By Thursday afternoon, pushed by 30-mph winds, the fire had expanded from 400 acres to more than 3,000 acres in a matter of hours, said fire information officer Linda Williams.

The fire forced the evacuation of about 25-45 homes located outside the forest, said American Red Cross Executive Director Ross Bellingham. Bellingham also noted that many of the evacuees found housing with friends and neighbors. A staging area was set up by the Red Cross in a small community called Gallatin Gateway. Setting up another staging area is a possibility.

McKelvey said the threatened residences were within one-half to one mile from the fire, which is about six miles south of Gallatin Gateway and east of U.S. 191, where traffic was disrupted as equipment and personnel rushed to and from the fire lines. A section of the highway was closed to accommodate emergency vehicles.

Crews in Montana were also still fighting a 71,000-acre blaze burning in Glacier National Park, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The fire, which had been burning since August, was 59 percent contained Saturday.

Hot, dry weather has prolonged the western fire season this year. Some 93,000 acres have burned in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Utah.


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