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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Buffalo Fire In Southeast Montana Triples In Size Overnight

An air tanker drops retardant on the Buffalo Fire, burning in Powder River County, MT, July 23, 2020.
BLM Montana/Dakotas
An air tanker drops retardant on the Buffalo Fire, buring in Powder River County, MT, July 23, 2020.

A large wildfire burning southwest of Broadus in Powder River County in southeast Montana tripled in size overnight. The Buffalo Fire is now 15,000 acres and is threatening 12 structures.

The fire was started by a burning coal seam. Mark Jacobsen, Public Affairs Officer with the Bureau of Land Management Miles City Field Office, explains how difficult coal seam fires are to fight.

"Quite often these seams are in country that is really rough and hard to get tracked or wheeled vehicles back in there to dig them out, because you have to excavate the coal seam out to the very end."

Coal seams are scattered throughout eastern Montana.

The Buffalo Fire continued to actively burn overnight and was spotting across containment lines along parts of its perimeter. Temperatures in the region were in the mid 90s Thursday, with gusty winds.

Jacobsen says the fire is burning in varied terrain with steep buttes, badlands, sagebrush, grass and timber. The fire is 50 percent contained.

BLM land in Powder River County is currently under stage 1 fire restrictions.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings until 9 p.m. Friday for Glacier, Toole, Pondera and Liberty counties in north-central Montana. Low relative humidity and gusty winds, which can contribute to extreme fire behavior, are expected over the region starting Friday afternoon.

Six counties in Montana have Stage 1 fire restrictions or burn bans in place, including Yellowstone, Musselshell, Silver Bow, Deer Lodge, Cascade and Lewis and Clark. The Bureau of Land Management and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation have implemented stage 1 fire restrictions in Power River County.

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Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.
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