Firefighters Tackle Western Montana Blaze, Try to Wrap Up Another

Rugged terrain and heavy timber were complicating efforts to fight a 300-acre blaze in western Montana that one fire official said had the potential to grow.

Tom Heinz, the deputy incident commander of the Frog Pond fire southwest of Philipsburg, told firefighters they caught a break in the weekend weather. He said it would be critical to find and extinguish the hundreds of spot fires that had been sparked; those created the potential for the Frog Pond fire to grow, he said.

More than 300 firefighters were on the scene Monday afternoon, and that number was likely to grow, information officer Pat McKelvey said. No homes were immediately threatened, though McKelvey said there are cabins in the area.

The fire was burning in steep terrain, through firs and lodgepole pines and in areas of dense, downed or dead trees, he said. Because firefighters have built line on the fire's west side, the blaze was considered 15 percent contained. But spot fires were keeping crews busy, he said.

''They're spread out in the forest ahead of it, looking for these things,'' McKelvey said.

Though the weather was cooler, generally a help to firefighters, a thunder cell with lots of lightning moved through the area later in the day, and there appeared to be two new starts, he said. The Frog Pond fire was started by lightning.

Meanwhile, a special management team handed off responsibility for the Baker fire, near Plains in western Montana. That fire had been contained at 2,333 acres and focus Monday had begun shifting to rehabilitation, information officer Maridel Merritt said.