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Intense fire heat causes firefighters on Montana blazes to retreat for safety

by Rob Chaney, The Missoulian (Missoula, Mont.) |

MISSOULA, Mont. – Wildfires both north and south of Missoula heralded the end of a relaxed summer this weekend as hot temperatures drove firefighters off their own lines.

The Colt Fire north of Seeley Lake expanded to nearly 1,500 acres on Saturday after a day of active burning near Lindbergh Lake. The Missoula County Sheriff ordered evacuations of homes and campsites between Rainy Lake and Summit Lake Friday, and added an evacuation warning for residences on the east side of Lake Inez Saturday.

At times, the fire has burned so intensely and spread so rapidly that firefighters had to retreat from the blaze for safety reasons.

According to the Montana Department of Resources and Conservation, which oversaw firefighting operations during the fire’s first week, fire activity Thursday afternoon caused crews to retreat.

Firefighters working the fire at the time reported extreme fire behavior and rapid spread in particularly hot and dry conditions. The DNRC said no injuries were reported among firefighters after fire activity forced them to disengage.

The fire has drawn the full aerial defense force from single-engine air tankers to Very Large Air Tankers (DC-10 jets) along with helicopters and heavy equipment on the ground to contain its spread.