Thousands Evacuated in Montana as Multiple Wildfires Take Hold

Thousands were evacuated in Montana Thursday as multiple wildfires took hold with 25 large ones burning in the state, the Associated Press reported.

Montana's Richard Spring Fire, which began Sunday, spread in multiple directions and made its way across the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation as strong winds and hot temperatures contributed to the massive blaze. After an initial evacuation order was issued, Northern Cheyenne tribal leaders urged those who didn't leave already to leave Wednesday. Around Lame Deer, firefighters worked to prevent nearby homes from being burned.

Outside of Lame Deer, Krystal Two Bulls and a few others remained behind clearing brush from her yard to prevent it from burning as fire smoke could be seen rising nearby.

"We're packed and we're loaded so if we have to go, we will," said Two Bulls. "I'm not fearful; I'm prepared. Here you don't just run from fire or abandon your house."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Fire in Montana
Thousands were evacuated in Montana as multiple wildfires took hold. In this photo, firefighter Dylan Tabish looks at a fire burning during a live fire training at the Lubrecht Forest Camp June 14, 2007 in Greenough, Montana. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The wildfire bore down on rural southeastern Montana towns Thursday as continuing hot, dry weather throughout the West drove flames through more than a dozen states.

Several thousand people in Montana remained under evacuation orders as the Richard Spring Fire advanced.

Meanwhile, California's Dixie Fire — which started July 13 and is the largest wildfire burning in the nation — threatened a dozen small communities in the northern Sierra Nevada even though its southern end was mostly corralled by fire lines.

The fire has burned 790 square miles (2,000 square kilometers), destroyed some 550 homes and nearly obliterated the town of Greenville last week. It was 30 percent contained.

The Montana fire spread in multiple directions, torching trees and sending off embers that propelled the flames across the dry landscape.

On Sunday, winds gusting up to 56 miles per hour (90 kilometres per hour) caused the blaze to explode across more than 260 square miles (670 square kilometers) by Thursday.

The fire had crept within about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) of the eastern edge of the evacuated town of Lame Deer, leaping over a highway where officials had hoped to stop it.

After a second fire ignited just west of the town and quickly spread, tribal officials late Wednesday urged residents who did not heed the initial evacuation order to flee. Busses were being brought in to move people to a school in the community of Busby, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) away.

There were no immediate damage reports about buildings.

Rancher Jimmy Peppers sat on his horse east of town, watching an orange glow grow near the site of his house as the night wore on.

"I didn't think it would cross the highway so I didn't even move my farm equipment," said Peppers, who spent the afternoon herding his cattle onto a neighbor's pasture closer to town. "I don't know if I'll have a house in the morning."

The town of about 2,000 people is home to the tribal headquarters and several subdivisions and is surrounded by steep, rugged, forest.

Two Bulls and some friends stuck around in her yard as thick plumes of smoke rose from behind a tree-covered ridgeline just above the house.

Also ordered to leave were about 600 people in and around Ashland, a small town just outside the reservation. Local, state and federal firefighters were joined by ranchers using their own heavy equipment to carve out fire lines around houses.

Cooler weather and less wind was in the weather forecast for southeastern Montana Thursday, the National Weather Service said. That could give firefighters brief relief before a ridge of high pressure moves into the area and pumps temperatures into the 90s over the weekend.

Extreme drought conditions have left trees, grass and brush bone-dry throughout many Western states, leaving them ripe for ignition.

At the same time, California and some other states were facing flows of monsoonal moisture that were too high to bring real rain but could create thunderstorms that bring new fire risks of dry lightning and erratic winds.

In Northern California, a number of wildfires and the threat of more prompted three national forests to close down the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, a 780-square mile (2,000-square kilometer) area of granite peaks, lakes and trails, into November.

"Tracking hikers in unsafe areas pulls much-needed aircraft away from firefighting efforts, and adds risk and exposure to first responders. Additionally, forest managers hope to limit the possibility of human-caused fires with this temporary full closure," Shasta-Trinity National Forest officials said in a statement.

Scientists have said climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. The more than 100 large wildfires in the American West come as parts of Europe are also burning.

Wildfire in Montana
Firefighters watch a hillside burn on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Wednesday, Aug 11, 2021, near Lame Deer, Mont. Matthew Brown/AP Photo