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Van’s broken fuel line sparks fire in south-central Montana

by Shaylee Ragar, Bozeman Daily Chronicle |

THREE FORKS, Mont. — A wildfire started by a burning vehicle charred a swath of land west of Bozeman, Mont., Wednesday afternoon.

The fire started near mile marker 264 on Interstate 90 and moved southeast through dry grass toward Milligan Canyon. Doug Dodge, fire warden and coordinator for Jefferson County’s disaster and emergency services, said it burned an estimated 200 acres.

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Barb Armstrong said the fire was caused by a van’s broken gas line. The van burned until only the frame was left.

Area fire crews also scrambled to fires north of Manhattan and near Amsterdam. Those were smaller than the fire west of Three Forks and were controlled quickly.

The three fires, however, weren’t the source of most of the smoke that floated into the Gallatin Valley. That mostly came from the McClusky Fire, which has been burning near Delmoe Lake west of Whitehall for a few weeks. That fire has been burning actively for the past few days, a fire spokeswoman said. It was estimated at about 974 acres and was 51 percent contained at deadline.

Wednesday’s fire activity was aided by the weather. Wind, high temperatures and low humidities caused the National Weather Service to issue red flag warnings for much of the state.

The fire west of Three Forks was in Jefferson County. It started after several area firefighters were already headed to the field fire in Amsterdam and soon became the bigger concern.

The van that started the fire was parked on the eastbound shoulder of Interstate 90. After it caught fire, the flames hit dry grass next to it and spread quickly. Fire officials couldn’t say what happened to the owner.

Firefighters came at the blaze from two sides, using Cottonwood Road to head it off. Trucks sprayed water and two Department of Natural Resources and Conservation helicopters dropped even more.

A few buildings were nearby but were not evacuated. By about 5:30 p.m., Dodge was fairly confident the blaze was under control. He said crews would keep watching it through the evening.

Fire crews from Gallatin County, Jefferson County, Three Forks, Boulder-Bull Mountain, Harrison, Whitehall and Amsterdam responded, along with Montana Highway Patrol.