A fire burning east of Browning, which prompted evacuations and school closures on Wednesday, is now 80% contained, according to Blackfeet Fire Management.
Carter Gallineaux, acting fire management officer for Blackfeet Fire Management, said the fire has burned 700 acres. Crews were out fighting the fire until 2 a.m. on Thursday. Gallineaux said he has not yet done an assessment on structural damage.
For local stories that matter, subscribe today.
Gallineaux's biggest concern is wind. The National Weather Service on Wednesday reported wind gusts in Browning up to 85 mph.
"The hay bails require so much water, so they're much harder to fight. Once they start burning, they start kicking embers out, and then the wind blows the embers," Gallineaux said.
He said the cause of the fire is under investigation. Evacuation orders have been lifted, Browning Public Schools and U.S. Highway 2 are now open. The evacuation shelter, which was located at Browning Middle School, is closed.
New fire burns near Joe Show Road East
Gallineaux said a second fire near Joe Show Road East, located east of Browning, began burning Wednesday night. As of Thursday morning, the fire had burned between 7 and 10 acres. Gallineaux said the crew established a control line around the fire, but high winds could allow for potential spotting.
"There are still trees burning on the inside (of the control line)," Gallineaux said. "We need to get there on the ground and get them extinguished."
There have been no evacuation orders for this fire, which Gallineaux said was caused by a faulty wood stove chimney exhaust.
High winds and a lack of moisture have fueled fires statewide. A fire in the Gibson Flats area destroyed 11 homes in Great Falls, as of Wednesday, and residents of Denton were evacuated on Wednesday for a fire threatening Fergus County.
Gallineaux said while it's unusual to have a fire in winter months, it's not impossible.
"We haven't had significant moisture in nine months. Everything is really dry. We've been in a 'red flag' for the last seven days. Usually, we have snow on the ground. Last September, we had snow. Now it's December and no snow," he told the Tribune on Wednesday.
If you have questions on the fire or evacuations, call Blackfeet Fire Management at (406) 338-2946.
This story will be updated.
This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: Browning fire 80% contained; new fire burns near Joe Show Road East