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Reinforcements arrive to help with Montana fires

Associated Press

Helena, Mont. — Crews and equipment from 34 states arrived Monday to help fight four massive wildfires that have destroyed a dozen homes in eastern Montana and forced ranchers to let their livestock loose as the blazes spread unhindered across roads, rivers and man-made fire lines.

The reinforcements come from states from Alaska to Florida. They were particularly needed Monday, as shifting winds threatened another run by the fires in a rural area south of the Missouri River that have burned a combined 353 square miles.

It’s the largest complex of fires in a state with 18 blazes burning, which is more than twice as many as Alaska, the next highest state with eight, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Many of the Montana fires were ignited by lightning strikes over the past week, and spread rapidly thanks to a heatwave and drought conditions.

The sudden rash of fires caused Gov. Steve Bullock to declare an emergency Sunday that will allow the state to use the National Guard in the firefighting efforts.

The eastern Montana fires have been burning since Wednesday through private farmland with scattered homes, along with a mix of rolling open land used for grazing and timber-choked river bottoms.

One of the fires jumped the Musselshell River and leapt over fire breaks cleared by bulldozers, frustrating crews that have contained just 5 percent of the fire complex.

The destroyed homes were discovered within the area ravaged by the largest blaze between the towns of Jordan and Winnett, east of the Musselshell River.

Another 50 homes in the area were under evacuation orders.

A heat-related injury caused a firefighter to be pulled from the line, fire information officer Tim Engrav said.

Livestock have likely died in the fires, but responders have not had a chance to make a tally.