Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clouds Sprinkle Wildfires, but Lightning Starts More Montana Orders Homes Evacuated

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clouds Sprinkle Wildfires, but Lightning Starts More Montana Orders Homes Evacuated

Article excerpt

HELENA, Mont. -- More homes were evacuated as the fires devastating southwestern Montana's Bitterroot Valley got only teasing sprinkles of rain while lightning started more fires.

One complex of fires bulged westward toward Darby late Thursday, forcing evacuations along a nine-mile stretch of road. Ravalli County officials said they did not know how many homes had been vacated. The fire was four miles from Darby, population 940.

Evacuation orders remained in effect for hundreds of homes Thursday as a storm brought fire-fanning wind and lightning strikes, but hardly any rain. The storms disappointed firefighters who had been encouraged by cooler conditions earlier in the day.

"Any moisture helps, but you need a least a tenth of an inch and this was just a trace," said fire information officer Donna Nemeth.

Altogether, fires in the Bitterroot Valley have destroyed more than 50 homes and covered more than 175,000 acres according to latest estimates. The toll of homes grows as officials gain access to areas and see what the fires did; on Thursday they confirmed the loss of a second house near Pinesdale.

A fire manager, Dave Larsen, said conditions in the area are so extreme that flames 6 inches to 8 inches high were seen on moss-covered rocks this week.

South of Helena, two fires burning near Boulder were slowed by high humidity and rain after one of the blazes knocked out two major power lines that deliver electricity to the Northwest. One of the lines was back in service yesterday after an electronic system designed to detect problems such as excessive heat gave it a go-ahead.

The Bonneville Power Administration, which owns the lines, reported no electricity shortages tied to interruption of the lines that move power from big generating plants at Colstrip, in southeastern Montana.

The power lines were part of a toll that mounts daily in what is being called the nation's worst fire season in 50 years. …

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