Weather Improves as Firefighters Battle Montana Blaze

Crews battling a wildfire that has burned more than 6,000 acres near Plains had the advantage of relatively cool, calm weather Thursday as they tried to gain an edge over the blaze.

The main part of the Seepay 2 fire had burned about 6,000 acres but a smaller fire that erupted Wednesday joined it, information officer Wayne Johnson said.

''We know it's larger than 6,000 acres,'' Johnson said Thursday. ''We just don't know how much larger.''

Containment of the main fire was estimated at 40 percent.

Johnson said daytime temperatures in the 70s were predicted at the fire's upper elevations. The relatively cool weather and an absence of wind helped firefighters as they dug more lines along the blaze and prepared to ignite some areas to reduce fire fuels, Johnson said.

''We have some favorable weather conditions, so they're going to attack aggressively,'' he said.

Johnson said the cost of fighting the fire was $445,000 as of Wednesday.

The blaze burning trees, brush and grass is on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The fire, reported Sunday, is believed to have been caused by human activity and an investigation continues, Johnson said.

Montana 200, closed intermittently soon after the fire started, remained open Thursday, the first day of the Sanders County Fair in Plains. Fire managers expected increased traffic because of the fair, and asked that motorists not linger along the highway.

Five homes earlier described as at risk from the fire remained a concern, but the threat to them has decreased, Johnson said.

In southwestern Montana, the Forest Service said a 7,600-acre wildfire requires prohibiting public use of an area east and south of the Skalkaho Highway. The Signal Rock fire created unsafe conditions, said Dave Bull, the Bitterroot National Forest supervisor. The closed area is used by bow hunters seeking elk. The hunting season opens on Saturday.

Crews have been fighting the Signal Rock fire for a month. Ten percent of the blaze is contained, the Forest Service said.