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In Montana, three wildfires endanger scores of homes

Residents have been evacuated; the annual Testicle Festival is a go.

July 31, 2007|From the Associated Press

HELENA, MONT. — A trio of new wildfires in Montana threatened more than 100 homes and other buildings, officials said Monday.

One blaze, discovered Saturday and believed to have been human-caused, had burned about 1,000 acres along Interstate 90 in western Montana southeast of Missoula. Residents of about 40 homes were asked to leave, according to fire information officials.

Farther to the southeast near Philipsburg, residents of another 40 homes were ordered to leave in advance of another new blaze that had burned about 1,000 acres there.

About 40 outbuildings also were threatened by that blaze, and crews were placing protective fire wrapping around the structures Monday, said Nick Spang, a fire information officer. Erratic winds were expected as a cold front moved through.

"We're not letting anyone up there unless they're going up to there to collect belongings," he said.

A third fire in the area has been burning slowly for more than two weeks but flared up again, Spang said.

Granite County authorities were prepared to evacuate as many as 100 homes threatened by the 300-plus-acre wildfire.

The fires were burning not far from the Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, home of the Testicle Festival, a five-day bacchanalia that draws thousands to consume deep-fried bull testicles, known as "Rocky Mountain oysters."

The 25th annual bash is set to begin Wednesday, and lodge co-owner Rodney Lincoln said he was told the fires would not affect the festival because the fires were moving away from the lodge.

"There's some smoke, but in terms of flames, compared to last night it's pretty mellow in my estimation," Lincoln said. "A little smoke isn't going to hurt us. It's not going to deter people from coming."

A huge plume of smoke was visible in Helena from a fire to the north in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness.

Elsewhere around the state, evacuation orders remained in effect for 40 homes along the Missouri River, and the wilderness area and surrounding recreation sites remained closed.

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