Crews battle Montana wildfire, ski lodge evacuation lifted

Visitors were free to return to the ski area at the Red Lodge Mountain Resort Saturday evening, after being evacuated as a precautionary move due to a 700-acre wildfire nearby.

U.S. Forest Service/AP
The Wildland Fire burns along Nichols Creek Saturday, near Red Lodge, Montana. Authorities evacuated a ski lodge in southern Montana because of a wind-driven wildfire heading toward it.

Dozens of firefighters battled a wind-fueled wildfire in southern Montana that prompted the shot-term evacuation of a ski lodge.

The unseasonable blaze a few miles west of the community of Red Lodge had grown to 700 acres by Saturday night, but evacuations had been lifted, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jeff Gildehaus said.

The fire began on open private land, but it was driven by winds gusting 35 to 50 mph into the Custer National Forest, where the Red Lodge Mountain Resort ski area is located.

"There's snow between the ski area and the fire and the timber. But it's also a solid run of timber from where the fire is to the ski area," Gildehaus said. "So it gets up in the trees and starts running the crowns of the trees and it starts advancing toward the ski area."

He said that the decision to evacuate the ski area was made about 2:30 p.m. Saturday as a precautionary move and because there was just one road for firefighters and skiers to use.

But hours later with the evacuations ended, Gildehaus said people were free to return to the ski area.

He said the winds had eased somewhat and were expected to continue that course through the night.

He wasn't sure how many people had been evacuated, but he estimated about 500.

No one answered the telephone at the ski area Saturday afternoon. The resort posted on its Facebook page that guests were safe and being escorted down the mountain by law enforcement.

The fire burned around rural homes, but no structures were damaged, Gildehaus said.

With still no containment by Saturday night, the blaze had grown in size to 700 acres from 200 acres reported earlier in the day.

Dozens of firefighters were battling the blaze.

Wildfires in the area at this time of year are unusual, he said.

"But down in the low elevation, there isn't any snow and things are pretty dry," Gildehaus said. "We haven't really had any green-up yet where grasses turn green. We got all the dry grass from last year, and things are pretty dry."

Other wildfires were reported elsewhere Saturday in Montana and northern Wyoming.

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