Corral Fire evacuees allowed to return home, blaze 40 percent contained

A DNRC helicopter flies a bucket of water over the Corral Fire Thursday

Crews continue making progress on the Corral Fire burning North of Helena. Officials say the 1850 acre fire is now 40 percent contained.

Residents evacuated by the blaze are now heading home.

“We’ve stopped the forward spread of that fire, basically,” said Incident Command Trainee with the DNRC Brett Beagley. He says Wednesday night was a very quiet one on the Corral Fire line. Weather Thursday has further assisted firefighters.

With that, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton dropped all remaining evacuations at noon today–for residents only. Dutton says if those evacuees return home, they need to stay there, rather than venture out to see the extent of the fire’s damage.

For one, it is still burning in places. Two, the incident has caused about 15 abandoned mine shafts to open up. And Dutton reminds people how the fire started. A man had been legally burning debris with a burn permit last weekend. The fire reignited two days after he thought he had the fire extinguished.

“So when people drive out and they say well the fire is gone, what are you worried about? This started from a fire that had been reasonably put out,” Dutton said.

“Coming up in that area, you’re only going to put our firefighters at risk and compromise their safety so please, stay out of the area to help them out,” Beagley said.

“The fire was 200 yards from my house on Monday night and they had already built an incredible fire line between us and where the fire was,” said resident Katy Norris, who lives on the west side of the fire. She commends the work the firefighters have done so far.

She is also sure her house was saved because she very recently completed a wildfire mitigation project on her property—removing pine-beetle killed trees.

“We just finished ours 8 weeks ago, maybe 10 weeks ago,” she said.”We probably pulled out, oh geeze, 150 trees, right where the fire was.”

She needs to be ready to evacuate again at a moment’s notice. Still, she’s breathing a sigh of relief for now.

“I have a ten year old son who needs to get home, it’s been very difficult just to have us displaced,” she said.

Corral Fire Incident Commander Jerry Shepherd says even though conditions on the fire are improving, he says Helena-area residents still need to be very aware of fire danger, and not use fireworks right now.

“Please, please please watch your fireworks yesterday at 4 o’clock, we almost had another start. We had fireworks start another fire,” Shepherd said, adding that a roadway was the only thing which kept that blaze Wednesday from reaching a group of trees.

 Follow this link for details on filing for federal grants to help with wildfire mitigation projects.

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