Crews Routed Elsewhere as Fires Continue to Smolder in Montana

ALBERTON, Mont. (AP) -- Crews were routed elsewhere Sunday as firefighters continued to take advantage of cool, moist weather at an 11,000-acre wildfire here and other blazes burning across the state.

The Tarkio and West Mountain fires, now one large fire, remained 50 percent contained but have made no significant runs in days and were largely smoldering Sunday, fire information officer Trish Hogervorst said.

Residents were allowed Saturday to return to 10 homes that had been under an evacuation order since shortly after the fires began along Interstate 90 on Aug. 4. Full containment is estimated as early as Monday.

''We are sending crews to other fires now that need it more,'' Hogervorst said. ''We got some rain on the fire here a few days ago so that's really slowed things down.''

More than 1,000 firefighters remained on scene. Command of the fire, which has cost $5.9 million to fight, could be transferred to local authorities as early as next week.

Snow and rain late last week also calmed other fires burning in western Montana, with one lightning-sparked blaze nearly contained after threatening a Bitterroot Valley ranch burned by wildfires in 2000.

The 1,670-acre fire on the CB Ranch near Darby was 97 percent contained Sunday afternoon. Full containment was expected as early as Sunday night if the weather cooperated, fire information officer Marilyn Krause said.

West of Darby, the 3,800-acre Rockin fire in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness remained 60 percent contained, with crews working to secure the fire's eastern border to keep it contained to the wilderness area.

For the first time in days, air patrols detected no new starts in the Bitterroot National Forest on Saturday. To the north, at least an inch of snow fell on one of the state's smaller fires, the 100-acre Limestone Peak blaze in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and rain also dampened the 3,600-acre Kelly Point fire there.

That fire was 30 percent contained Sunday and will remain unstaffed, but monitored. Containment of the Limestone Peak fire remained at 15 percent.

Twelve miles south of Superior, the Prospect fire remained at 3,023 acres and just 5 percent contained, although cool weather allowed crews to work in areas that had been too dangerous to access, fire information officer Maridel Merritt said.

''The rain kept the fire quiet and we've made some good progress, but we can't become complacent,'' Operations Sections Chief Scott Rider said. ''Safety is still our first objective and we have to give this fire the respect it deserves.''

Glacier National Park reported several small fires, but they were being allowed to burn naturally.

On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center: www.nifc.gov

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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