- Fires broke out near Great Falls, Browning and Stanford.
- Winds gusted between 50 and 90 mph.
- Officials were assessing damage to homes and other buildings.
Buildings were in flames and residents evacuated as a wildfire broke out on the edge of Great Falls, Montana, Wednesday morning amid windy, dry conditions.
At least two other fires were burning in different areas of the state.
The Great Falls fire was burning in the Gibson Flats area, about 10 minutes from downtown, according to local media outlets. It was first reported at about 2:40 a.m. MST.
“Numerous structures have been destroyed at this time and to the best of our knowledge, no loss of life or serious injury has occurred thus far,” the Cascade County Sheriff/Coroner’s Office said in a Facebook post.
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About 70 emergency personnel were at the scene as of around 8 a.m. MST. Evacuations were taking place and residents were asked to avoid the area.
Winds were gusting up to about 50 mph, and are expected to continue through the day with gusts up to 70 mph possible. Much of Montana is in exceptional or extreme drought, making the situation ripe for wind-fueled fires.
“It’s hard to envision a more worrisome early December setup for rapid wildfire spread in Montana,” senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman said.
A second blaze was burning about 100 miles northwest of Great Falls near Browning, where winds were gusting up to 90 mph.
The third fire started Tuesday night in Stanford, about 60 miles southeast of Great Falls.
A lack of early season snow exacerbated the dry conditions.
“Great Falls is almost one foot behind their average snowfall pace, and a whopping 38 inches behind the pace from last season, through Nov. 30,” Erdman said. “That dry ground is only adding to the fire danger in northern Montana.”
The winds are expected to let up by the end of the week.
“While not as strong, some gusty southwest winds may linger into Thursday before a cold front arrives and winds finally slacken off by Friday.”
Meanwhile, unusually high temperatures were being reported in parts of the state, including Helena, where it 65 degrees in the late morning.
Families displaced by the fire in Great Falls are being asked to check in with the American Red Cross at 1-800-272-6668 to be accounted for.
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