Fire officials have increased evacuation orders for the Corral Fire burning North of Helena.
At least 225 homes have now been evacuated.
At last report, the fire was burning 1200 acres or more. No deaths or injuries have been reported yet, but four homes have been lost to the blaze.
Gusty winds have been increasing the danger tuesday.
To the untrained eye the Corral Fire seemed fairly dormant this morning.
Well, the acreage was growing and it wasn’t contained. But standing near Green Meadow Drive about 10:30– it felt manageable.
“I’m watching these two helicopters fly in a loop,” I said, “There’s a green national guard helicopter and a white DNRC helicopter. They fly over to this pond, they pick up a bucket of water and then fly over to the smoking hillside beyond. They just take turns.”
“This is not fun, this is very scary,” said resident Linda Cantrell, who lives just inside the evacuation zone–on the East side of the Scratchgravel Hills.
She left last night but had come back, not wanting to spend the day in a Hotel room.
“And so I’m here, when I shouldn’t be,” she said.
She had grabbed all her important papers, toiletries, food for her and her four cats and put it all together in one place. At about 11:30 though—she was getting nervous again.
“In fact, I’m starting to think I need to get that in the car, and so all I’ll have to do is grab my cats put them in the carriers , put them in the car and I’m gone,” she said.
I walked back across the road to the fire’s incident command center. And just a few minutes later.
“Stay the course, don’t let anybody in, because a wind event’s coming and it hit about noon and it hit with a vengeance,” Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton speaking in the command center during an afternoon fire briefing.
Powerful wind gusts reaching 50 mph quickly began pushing the fire north and east, increasing evacuation orders about a mile east of Green meadow drive. These evacuations will be in effect until at least tomorrow morning. Slurry bombers began dropping retardant on the fire.
Governor Brian Schweitzer flew over the Scratchgravel hills as the erratic winds kept pushing bigger, thicker plumes across the Helena valley.
“Every once in a while,” Schweitzer said from the plane, “coming right out of the white smoke will be some deep dark black smoke that boils out of there like rapids in a river. And that tells us that there’s an accelerant there that’s working. Could be diesel, could be a car, could be somebody’s house.”
Schweitzer is asking all Helena area residents to stop using fireworks due to the dry windy conditions. An evacuation shelter is still running at Helena’s First Assembly of God Church.
Evacuees who need shelter for animals or livestock may take them to the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.
About 200 firefighters are currently working the blaze. The strong winds are expected to last into the evening.