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

Montana wildfire update for December 01, 2021

Flames from a fast-moving wildfire engulf grain elevators in the town of Denton, Montana, December 01, 2021.
Fergus County Sheriff's Office
Flames from a fast-moving wildfire engulf grain elevators in the town of Denton, Montana, December 01, 2021.

West Wind Fire

The town of Denton in Fergus County in central Montana is under an evacuation order because of a fast-moving wildfire.

The 2,500 acre West Wind Fire was first reported late Tuesday night along Highway 80 north of Stanford. Strong winds quickly pushed the fire east across the highway toward Denton.

Denton Public Schools announced on Facebook Wednesday afternoon it had evacuated, following a recommendation by Fergus county Disaster and Emergency Services.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation reports the West Wind fire is human caused. DNRC says as of Wednesday afternoon there are 17 active wildfires in Montana, 4 started within the last 24 hours.

The Fergus County Sheriff’s Office is urging people to stay out of the region.

Gibson Flats

Flames aided by record high temperatures and strong gusty winds destroyed nearly 30 structures, threatened several others and forced multiple evacuations in the Gibson Flats area south of Great Falls.

Speaking at a news conference this Wednesday afternoon, Great Falls Fire Chief Jeremy Jones said the 120 acre fire started as a grass fire.

"It rolled down the hill through pasture land, got into some outbuildings and vehicle storage, and then got into the Gibson Flats neighborhood."

Jones says 11 homes, seven garages and 11 outbuildings have been destroyed.

Fire in Gibson Flats near Great Falls, Dec. 01, 2021.
Brittany Keeler / Cascade County Sheriff's Department
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Cascade County Sheriff's Department
Fires burn in the Gibson Flats area near Great Falls, MT, Dec. 01, 2021.

Around 75 firefighters from multiple agencies were on scene all Wednesday morning. Chief Jones expects several fire engines to remain until Thursday.

An evacuation center has been set up at Great Falls Central Catholic High School. So far around 65 residents have checked in with the American Red Cross to say they are safe.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter says there have been no injuries or deaths but he did report one deceased chicken.

The fire was first reported at 2:41 a.m. A cause has not yet been determined.

Blackfoot

A roughly 500 acre wildfire that led to the evacuation of around 100 people Wednesday morning in the community of Blackfoot is fully contained.

Blackfeet Fire Management dispatcher Jennifer Arnoux says firefighters now are extinguishing hot spots.

Arnoux tells Montana Public Radio there are no reported injuries, but several outbuildings and vehicles were burned.

That fire, pushed by strong winds east of Browning and south of Great Falls, was first reported at about 4:30 Wednesday morning.

Tribal offices and Browning Public Schools closed Wednesday due to the high winds and fire danger.

Highway 2 from Browning to Meriweather was closed for several hours but has since reopened.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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Jess Sheldahl is a reporter for Yellowstone Public Radio and the host of Morning Edition as well as YPR's daily news podcast, The Worm.
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.
O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at edward.obrien@umt.edu.
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