Update to our story filed Wednesday night:
Montana authorities say a the North Hills Fire burning north of Helena is no longer threatening homes and all evacuation orders are being lifted.
Lewis and Clark County sheriff's officials said today all residents will be allowed home in the afternoon. The roads to public areas, including Black Sandy State Park and the White Sandy campground, are expected to re-open by the evening.
Story filed Wednesday night is below.
Several crews on the North Hills Fire near Helena are being withdrawn Thursday, and remaining evacuation orders could be lifted Thursday morning. Fire officials told locals during a public briefing Wednesday night that the situation on more than 4,700 acre fire is improving and more than half of it is contained.
Northern Rockies Operations Section Chief Keith Brink says with gains made on the fire over the last several days it’s time for some of the firefighters and gear to pull out.
“Based on what the fire behavior has been doing we’re going to release about 25 pieces of equipment and three crews," Brink said. "That makes that stuff available for other areas for when other fires pop up we’ve got those resources there.”
A fire behavior analyst on the crew said Wednesday night that there was very little potential for the fire to continue to grow outside of its current containment, but there’s still a chance of winds picking up and spotting the flames outside of the boundary.
Southwest winds are expected the next couple of days pushing the fire away from most of the evacuated homes. Thunderstorms expected Thursday and Friday could create erratic strong winds.
During the meeting at the Helena Valley Community Center last night, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said he and the fire incident command are meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday to decide if its safe for the roughly 150 remaining evacuees from the fire to return home .
“We’ll still be working this fire probably five or six days, because it’s still that hot," Dutton said. "But we’ll be able to get people back into their homes. Hopefully by tomorrow [Thurs. Aug. 1].”
Dutton says several hundred other evacuees were already cleared to return home Wednesday. They’ve been out of their homes since last Saturday.
Locals applauded the firefighting efforts at the meeting. But some, like Bill Bishop, are frustrated to still be blocked off from their property.
“I agree with them. They’re doing the best they can. I got it. But we’re doing the very best we can too, to keep ourselves under control, don’t lose our temper and and not go down there and make a scene. I think it’s time they open that thing up and let us go home," Bishop said.
If the evacuation order is lifted, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff says the news should come out before noon Thursday.
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