Wildland fire rages in Custer County

Federal Bureau of Land Management firefighters soak the side of Liscom Road in Custer County and light backfires Friday morning to remove fuel for the Sartin Draw Fire, which has burned about 80,000 acres in Powder River, Custer and Rosebud counties. (STAR PHOTO/Steve Allison)
Amorette Allison
Star Staff Writer

Firefighters are battling an 80,000-acre wildland fire that could force evacuations in Custer County.

Officials have warned Custer County homeowners living near the fire area to be prepared to evacuate.

The fire, named the Sartin Draw Fire,  was reported at 5 a.m. on Wednesday. It has grown rapidly in size despite the efforts of federal, state and county firefighters.

The fire began in timber on National Forest Service Land in Powder River County and is now burning brush and grass on private and public land about 35 miles northwest of Broadus, according to fire officials. It has spread into portions of Custer and Rosebud counties.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, according to Crystal Beckman, a fire information officer with the Montana Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. (DCNR).

Beckman said hot and windy weather, along with drought conditions on the ground, are fueling the fire. There was no containment as of 11 a.m. on Friday.

DCNR’s County Assist Team assumed management of the fire Thursday afternoon. and contributed a dozen engines, one firefighting crew, and three pieces of heavy equipment to the effort.

Approximately 150 firefighters were battling the blaze at noon on Friday, supported by air tankers and helicopters. Firefighters are cutting fire lines in an attempt to contain the blaze.

Its is one of numerous fires burning in southeastern Montana, including the Snake Fire, which has burned 5,247 acres in Custer County.

According to a DCNR news release, conditions are expected to be favorable for fires this weekend, with high temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds. Sunday’s high may reach 100 degrees.

The period from June to August of this year is now the warmest on record for Montana. It’s also been very dry.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor website, the entire eastern portion of Montana is experiencing “severe-to-exceptional” drought.

The National Weather Service reports that just 3.33 inches of rain have fallen in Miles City since Jan. 1, compared to 9.79 inches in a normal year.

(Contact Amorette Allison at 406-234-0450 or mcreporter@midrivers.com.)