HELENA, Mont. — As a wildfire’s flames raced to the edge of Lame Deer town limits, police drove the streets with loudspeakers blaring orders for residents of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation community to grab their most important belongings and get out.
Buses were waiting to carry people from the danger area, which on Thursday night suddenly meant the entire town of 2,000.
Desi Small-Rodriguez, a volunteer with the tribe’s disaster and emergency services department, recalled the chaotic scene as the Chalky Fire threatened to burn down the seat of the southeastern Montana reservation.
“A lot of people were walking with their belongings, getting on buses, trying to find rides, getting out as told,” Small-Rodriguez said Friday. “It was a madhouse at the one gas station in town.”
About 250 people stayed at a Red Cross shelter 25 miles away at the St. Labre Mission. Others took shelter with friends and relatives on other parts of the reservation. Those with no place to go camped out on lawns in nearby communities, or they just refused to leave.
The fire had already burned two homes earlier in the day, then wind from a cold front whipped up the flames and drove the blaze straight toward town. Things looked grim to Carol Raymond, Rosebud County’s head of disaster and emergency services, who drove from Forsyth to see firsthand what was happening.
Firefighters save town
“I figured the whole town of Lame Deer would go up in flames,” Raymond said.
Firefighters worked overnight to keep the flames back. At one point early Friday, the fire jumped U.S. 212, but firefighters contained it with a backburn. The wildfire skirted around town without destroying any buildings, Small-Rodriguez said. Later Friday, authorities lifted the evacuation order and reopened roads that were closed due to the fire.
Officials warned residents that services were limited. The emergency room was running with a skeleton crew and the town’s store was closed. They encouraged the sick and elderly to stay away until the danger passed, Small-Rodriguez said.
Winds fan flames
Lame Deer was out of immediate danger, but with gusty winds and miles of unprotected perimeter on the 156-square-mile Chalky Fire, the situation could change quickly, fire information officer Mariah Leuschen said. The fire is part of the Rosebud complex — the second major fire to affect the reservation this summer. June’s Ash Creek Fire burned at least 18 homes, forced evacuations and caused $20,000 worth of damage to tribal property.
The Rosebud complex of six wildfires measured about 205 square miles Friday morning.
The Chalky Fire is the largest in the complex. Besides the two homes lost, a third structure burned in one subdivision and the blaze was still threatening another subdivision.
To the west, the Crow Reservation was dealing with its own wildfires. Residents east of Crow Agency also had to flee their homes when strong wind gusts pushed the Sarpy Hill complex of fires toward their homes. The fire burned one home around midnight.
The Sarpy Hill complex measured 80 square miles Thursday but has grown since its overnight run, fire officials said.
In Northern California, higher humidity and calmer winds helped crews make progress on a wildfire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The Salt Creek Fire near the community of O’Brien about 16 miles north of Redding has consumed 900 acres.
Blazes burn across West
Other wildfires in the West:
•In Southern California, firefighters were nearing containment of a rural Riverside County wildfire that has burned 355 acres of heavy vegetation and one home.
•In Idaho, a wildfire burning in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness has scorched nearly 29 square miles and was being battled by more than 200 firefighters, officials said. The Halstead Fire was burning in the wilderness 18 miles northwest of Stanley. It ignited a week ago from a lightning strike.
•In central Washington, the Crane Road Fire was about 80 percent contained Friday after burning nearly 19 square miles of grass, brush and scattered timber. The fire broke out Wednesday.
•In Wyoming, more crews were being sent to help battle the growing Ferris Fire, about 30 miles northeast of Rawlins. The wildfire grew by about 800 acres in one day to more than 3,600 acres by Friday.
•In southern Utah, several major wildfires that scorched mountainsides last month have triggered concern for flash floods over the next few days.