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

Montana Fire Aircraft Return To Duty After Helicopter Crash

Montana DNRC helicopter used to fight wildfires.
Corin Cates-Carney
A Montana DNRC helicopter used to fight wildfires.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s firefighting aircraft are returning to duty Friday after a helicopter crash grounded the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation fleet as major wildfires broke out this week.

Spokesperson Paige Cohn says a safety review cleared the agency's six remaining helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft to resume operations. The results of that review were not made public. Cohn said that could happen Friday.

Minor injuries were reported among the five agency personnel aboard the Bell UH-1H (Huey) helicopter when it crash landed, rolled and burned while returning to its base during the fight against a fire east of Townsend.

Almost 35,000 acres have burned in Montana so far in 2021, according to state and U.S. government data. The vast majority of acreage burned — 94% — has been in human-caused fires, the data indicates.

Evacuation orders were lifted on a 38-square mile fire south of Red Lodge. The fire near Yellowstone National Park and along the Wyoming state line burned eight houses and buildings and 13 outbuildings when it exploded Tuesday amid heavy winds and record-breaking heat.

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