Fires destroy Montana homes, students start school in resort

(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Wind-driven wildfires destroyed more homes in northwestern and central Montana, while students whose high school is threatened by flames began the school year Tuesday in a luxury resort.

A cold front over the weekend brought wind gusts that fanned fires across the drought-stricken state. Some 17 of the 28 large fires burning in Montana saw significant growth, burning at least 155 square miles (401 square kilometers) of new land over the weekend.

About half of that new acreage involved a wildfire that doubled in size as it burned into the southern portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. That fire, which forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 homes and businesses in the town of Seeley Lake last month, is now threatening homes 30 miles to the east.

“The wind picked up somewhere and things went to hell in a hurry,” Two Creek Monture Ranch manager Wayne Slaght told the Missoulian newspaper.

The 169-square-mile (437-square kilometer) fire had not destroyed any homes.

Most of Seeley Lake remains under an evacuation order, and classes for Seeley-Swan High School students started at the Resort at Paws Up near Greenough, which is about 22 miles (35 kilometers) away from town.

The resort is known for hosting celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire in its cabins and luxury tents, with nightly rates starting at $1,690 for a tent.

The students will be taught in an administrative building, and kitchen staff will prepare their meals.

In northwestern Montana, at least 10 homes and 30 other buildings in an Amish community near the Canadian border burned on Saturday.

Residents left before the fire reached the homes, Lincoln County sheriff Roby Bowe said.

Some 187 residents in West Kootenai near Lake Koocanusa have evacuated their homes because of the threat from the 26-square-mile (67-square-kilometer) fire. About 300 people live in the area.

A separate fire destroyed four cabins northeast of Lincoln on Sunday. There were 90 residents under evacuation orders as the 33-square-mile (85-square-kilometer) fire continues to spread.

Mandatory evacuations were in effect in at least nine of the 28 large fires burning across Montana on Tuesday.

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