HAMILTON, Mont., Aug. 1 (UPI) — Five hundred families in Montana have been urged to evacuate due to a fast-moving wildfire that has now spread to 3,505 acres.
The wildfire — dubbed the Roaring Lion Fire — started Sunday afternoon about 5 miles southwest of Hamilton, according to the U.S. Forest Service. and is about 60 miles south of Missoula. It grew to at least a half square mile and is heading up Roaring Lion Road in the Bitterroot National Forest and down the canyon, officials said.
“We’re just trying to get people out of the way now,” Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay said to the Missoulian newspaper. “We can rebuild homes. We need to get people out of this area.”
An estimated 200 homes were directly threatened Sunday night.
The fire has been so intense that volunteer firefighters were forced to fall back several times, Hamilton Fire Chief Brad Mohn said.
“We are asking for people to cooperate,” he said to the Missoulian. “We can’t let people back up there…this is a big area. If you pull the radar, you’ll see the plume is huge. We’ve got fairly steady high winds up in the canyons and this fire has just launched.”
The Red Cross set up two shelters.
McKay told NBC Montana there has not been any lightning in the area.
Retired West Fork District Ranger Dave Campbell said he first noticed the sun turned red Sunday afternoon, and that he noticed flames were whirling.
“You could tell there was very unstable air,” he said to the Missoulian. “When you see those fire whirls, you know it’s going to be a very difficult fire to fight.”
Winds are expected to calm Monday, but the National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch for the Bitterroot and West and East Lolo districts Tuesday that predicts westerly winds gusting as high as 45 mph in the afternoon and evening. Today’s high was forecast to be 90.
Five helicopters were dropping buckets of water on the fire, including a tanker.
— Bitterroot NF (@BitterrootNF) August 1, 2016