Cooler temperatures, higher humidity and reduced winds have helped crews battling the 1851-acre Corral Fire, just North of Helena.
About 200 firefighters now have the fire 35 percent contained with the help of four helicopters, 2 air tankers and 14 fire engines.
The fire burned to the South and East late Tuesday afternoon, but there have been no injuries and no additional structures have been lost.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton has announced that residents evacuated from homes on both sides of Green Meadow Drive, south of Norris Road, may now return to their homes.
Residents north of Norris Road were allowed to return earlier Wednesday afternoon.. Residents should stay prepared to evacuate again if the fire situation changes.
Sheriff Dutton has announced that the Corral Fire started when a homeowner activated a burn permit on June 23. He put the fire out after burning debris and monitored it for several hours, but it reignited on June 25. Dutton has not released the homeowner’s name but said he is “extremely sorrowful.”
Firefighters are making progress, but officials are still being cautious because of the unpredictable nature of the blaze.
“We were the first engine on scene so we’ve been here going on our third day,” said DNRC Helena Unit Senior Engine Boss Steve Tappe.
When the winds around the fire have been kicking up, they’ve been changing directions. And the Scratchgravel Hills are really steep in places.
“When you add the influence of the terrain and the fact that much of it is difficult to reach, it just compounds our problems,” Tappe said.
And that’s before you count the human factors. Crews have to go through training to deal psychologically with fighting fire right around people’s homes.
“At times it can make you want to take more risks than you would take to save a field or a tree or something like that and so that’s something we have to battle within ourselves,” Tappe said.
Meanwhile, on the South side of the Scratchgravel Hills, some homeowners within the evacuation area have yet to leave. 67-year-old Gary Nettleton is stacking wood to work on his back deck.
“I got my eye on this here over here,” he said pointing at the hillside by his house.. “I got my stuff ready to go. And if I have to go, I’m gonna run.”
He figures he has an hour to leave if he sees flames crest the hill.
Incident Command trainee with the Helena National Forest Brett Beagley says it’s a good thing Nettleton set a definite trigger point to leave. But he suggests it’s better to leave when asked.
“Humans in emergency situations can be unpredictable,” Beagley said. “And then if they were to wait too long, they add a factor of danger to all our firefighting and law enforcement officials in the smoke and the heat of the battle.”
And then we have the animal factor.
Evacuees have been bringing some of their pets to the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.
Steve Sampson owns a kennel called Canine Condo on Norris Road, near the fire. Officials told him the business was safe on Tuesday.
He didn’t want to take chances and brought his animals out to the fairgrounds.
“We had 40 dogs and 10 cats we were boarding for people while they were on vacation,” Sampson said.
Helicopters continue circling the Corral Fire, continuously dumping water.
2 Air Tankers have been working the blaze too.
The hope is the fire continues to become more manageable so the scarce resources can be diverted to the other larger wildfires burning across the state.
Sheriff Dutton warns people in the area of the fire that the blaze has exposed about 15 abandoned mine shafts. He warned everyone to stay away from them for their own safety.
Click the link below to see the current topographic map of the fire.