A wildfire near Helena, Mont., tripled in size Thursday, destroying at least three homes and forcing the evacuations of residents. Meanwhile, in Yellowstone National Park, officials reopened a 14-mile stretch of road closed by a 66,500-acre blaze.
The raging fire in the Elkhorn Mountains, about 15 miles south of Helena, was estimated Thursday morning at 17,000 acres. It had been estimated at about 5,000 acres a day earlier.At least three buildings burned during the night, "but we don't know if they're ranch houses, cabins or full-time residences," said Ed Schild of the Lewis and Clark County sheriff's office. Firefighters managed to save eight or nine structures, said Art Howell, with the Interagency Fire Dispatch Center.
"The fire burned heavily all through the night," said fire information officer Anne Jeffery. "We had to evacuate homes and residences in the McClellan Creek drainage, the Jackson and Crystal creek drainages"in a mountainous Helena suburb.
She said no figures were available on how many people were evacuated.
A bar-restaurant at Montana City became an overnight fire refugee center. A restaurant employee said at least a dozen cars and pickups, loaded with chairs, beds, tables and household belongings of area residents, were parked nearby.
Evacuees, issued arm tags by the Red Cross identifying them as area residents, said they spent much of the night moving personal belongings, farm equipment and vehicles to safer areas.
"When I saw that that wall of flame, all I wanted to do was get out," said Carol Williams, who was ordered to leave her McClellan Creek home last night.
An orange glow lit the skies southeast of Helena in the predawn hours, and smoke clouds thousands of feet high had an orange underlining.
The blaze was sparked Aug. 9 when a four-wheel-drive vehicle caught fire.