Wildfire threatens Montana ski area, forcing evacuation

Wildfire evacuation
A wildfire has forced an evacuation at a ski lodge.

RED LODGE, Mont. (AP) – Authorities evacuated a ski lodge in southern Montana on Saturday because of a wind-driven wildfire heading toward it.

The wildfire was reported about 1:45 p.m. Saturday and had burned an estimated 200 acres of grass and timber about 4 miles west of the community of Red Lodge, 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.”

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

Gildehaus wasn’t sure how many people were 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.

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.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)



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