Red Lodge, MT, Aug. 30--A fire that started Sunday afternoon, apparently begun when a motorcycle skidded across a road and sent sparks into dry roadside grass, has forced the U.S. Forest Service to send the Red Lodge Mountain summer staff packing. The evacuation, a "precautionary measure" taken because the fire is burning a few miles from the ski area, was also extended to about 150 homes in the area just southwest of the town of Red Lodge.
"The fire is one drainage to the southeast of the ski area," said MarcellaManuel, Red Lodge's marketing director, "but it appears that things have calmed." Manuel spoke from the resort's golf course pro shop, where administrative staff was setting up temporary offices this morning. The golf course is at the north end of town and not in danger from the fire, which had burned 3,500 acres since Sunday evening. The ski area was closed yesterday, and because the winds had calmed, the Forest Service allowed area employees to go back up to the resort this morning and gave them four hours to retrieve files, phones and computers to continue business at the pro shop. "I'm not feeling as concerned today as I was on Sunday," Manuel said when asked about the 1,600-acre ski area's prospects.
That assessment was supported by Forest Service Information Officer ScottFitzwilliam, who said rangers were hoping to begin considering "easing off of the evacuation orders" soon. He explained that though the fire was burning, it was not very active today because of calm wind conditions. That and the prospect of thunderstorms anticipated in the next day or two would allow firefighters the chance to keep the fire from advancing toward the town and the ski area.
"We're at the mercy of the wind," said Fitzwilliam, "because this is a big timbered ridge." He said that on Sunday night the fire spread very quickly to encompass 2,000 acres because winds blew burning embers from treetop to treetop. But Monday morning started off cold and higher humidity started to slow the fire, giving slurry bombers an opportunity to begin dousing flames and keep them contained. Even so, said Fitzwilliam, "it's not going to go out until the rain or snow comes."