Efforts Against Fire Southwest of Philipsburg, Montana Expand

PHILIPSBURG (AP) -- Efforts against a wildfire about 25 miles from here expanded Saturday as crews continued withdrawing from another western Montana fire almost contained.

Early Saturday, a management team took over supervision of the Frog Pond fire, which had burned about 300 acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest southwest of Philipsburg. The blaze, reported Thursday after a lightning strike, was threatening 10 to 12 unoccupied cabins. By Saturday, crews had placed protective wrapping on nearly all the structures, fire information officer Pat McKelvey said.

About 250 firefighters and five helicopters were on scene, and McKelvey said managers planned to ask for additional resources Saturday night.

''This fire has a lot of potential,'' he said. ''It's sitting there with a lot of energy and a lot of potential. If the weather doesn't cooperate, it's going to continue to drive it. It's been resisting these suppression strategies we're trying to hold it.''

The biggest concern is the area's abundant woody fuel, estimated at 70 tons per acre, that could feed the fire and cause it to confine crews dangerously, McKelvey said. The fuels _ dead trees and woody debris _ could help the fire burn into the crowns of trees, McKelvey said.

Temperatures also soared into the 90s on Saturday, and winds were gusty and strong.

The Frog Pond fire was burning near the Bitterroot National Forest, and hikers' use of some Bitterroot trails in the area was restricted. Authorities were also cautioning against driving through the area.

Near Plains, the 2,333-acre Baker fire was 99 percent contained and some crews were being withdrawn, spokeswoman Maridel Merritt said Saturday.

''The Baker fire is really, really quiet,'' she said. ''They're starting to move into rehab efforts.'' The 30 or so structures that had been threatened escaped damage, Merritt said.

Also Saturday, the Forest Service planned to reopen some Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest land closed because of concerns about the Berry Meadows fire, which burned nearly 500 acres south of Jackson and was contained early this week. The closures kept the public out of harm's way during fire work, and reduced the chance of collisions between vehicles operated for firefighting and those in the forest for other reasons, the agency said.

Officials were trying to gather more information about the cause of the fire, which they said began with human activity. Initially, the blaze was attributed to lightning.

In the Helena area, Lewis and Clark County commissioners concerned about heightened fire risk imposed restrictions that allow campfires and use of charcoal briquettes only in campgrounds or other developed recreation sites outfitted with metal or concrete rings for fires. The restrictions apply to private and county lands, but not state or federal property.

Helena National Forest officials said they will reassess the fire danger early in the coming week and decide whether restrictions are needed.