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Destructive winds whipped several wildland fires on Saturday

Wind gusts exceeded 80 mph in some areas around Great Falls
Posted at 10:07 AM, Feb 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-02 14:10:02-05

The powerful winds that rocked parts of Montana on Saturday toppled trees, knocked out power, and caused "brown-outs" of dust that caused several crashes in and around Great Falls. Wind gusts exceeded 80 miles per hour in some areas around Great Falls and along the northern Rocky Mountain Front, and even topped 100 mph in parts of Glacier County.

The dry conditions and gusty winds also led to several wildland fires, keeping fire crews very busy.

Belt Rural Volunteer Fire Department said in a Facebook post on Sunday that they responded to two fires and one semi accident on Saturday. Just before 2 p.m., a mutual aid call came in for a wildland fire in Judith Basin County. Belt responded with two brush trucks, two water tenders, and a command vehicle to the large fast-moving fire. Firefighters from Malmstrom Air Force Base also responded.

While at the scene of the fire, Belt Rural and Belt Ambulance responded to a semi rollover accident, and said that thankfully there were no injuries in this accident.



A third call was dispatched for a fire in the timber near Tiger Butte Mountain in the Monarch Fire District. The fire was very active, but did not spread rapidly. One brush truck responded and was canceled on scene by Monarch fire.

There were no injuries reported in any of the fires, and we have not received any reports of damaged homes or buildings. BRVFD expressed its gratitude to Sand Coulee Fire for assisting with traffic control on Highway 89 when they responded to the second fire.

We also received word on Saturday of a wildland fire near the Spion Kop Wind Farm between Raynesford and Geyser, and also a ranch fire near Montague, between Highwood and Geraldine. There have not been any reports of injuries in any of these incidents. The Montana Department of Transportation said on Saturday night that the Lode Road Fire, which started around 7:30 p.m. north of Harlowton, has become hazardous enough to close the stretch of Highway 191 between the towns of Garneill and Harlowton.




(SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1) Hurricane-force gusts and powerful sustained winds rocked areas of Montana on Saturday, notably along and east of the northern Rocky Mountain Front.

The winds began picking up on Friday night, and by Saturday peak gusts exceeded 80 miles per hour in some areas, and even topped 100 mph in Glacier County.

The winds caused major travel troubles and toppled trees in and around Great Falls, causing "brown-outs" along some roads, knocking over utility poles, and triggering power outages to thousands of people. NorthWestern Energy has been working since the outages began on Saturday afternoon to get all service restored, but has not yet been able to provide an estimated time for full restoration to all customers.

The National Weather Service in Great Falls reports that the Deep Creek weather station south of Browning recorded a peak wind gust of 106 mph. Babb was hit by a peak gust of 92 mph, and Browning recorded an 89 mph gust. At Great Falls International AIrport, the peak gust was 82 mph, and in Choteau, a gust of 75 mph was recorded.

The powerful winds kicked up dust along several major roads, triggering several crashes along US Highway 87 between Great Falls and Fort Benton. Just after 5 p.m., the Cascade County Sheriff's Office closed US Highway 87, and Highway 89 from the Sand Coulee junction to Belt. The Sheriff's Office said: "There have been numerous vehicle accidents with injuries, these crashes involve two Sheriff’s patrol cars. Two deputies and one citizen are being treated for minor injuries." Just after 10 p.m., Sheriff Jesse Slaughter announced that the roads have re-opened.

The strong winds and dry conditions also led to several reported grassland fires. We received word of a wildland fire near the Spion Kop Wind Farm between Raynesford and Geyser, and also a ranch fire near Montague, between Highwood and Geraldine. There have not been any reports of injuries in any of these incidents. The Montana Department of Transportation said on Saturday night that the Lode Road Fire, which started around 7:30 p.m. north of Harlowton, has become hazardous enough to close the stretch of Highway 191 between the towns of Garneill and Harlowton. As of 11 p.m., the agency is reporting that there is poor visibility due to smoke in the area.

Traffic was also hampered by the weather, as the winds knocked out traffic signals for several hours in parts of Great Falls, including along a large stretch of 10th Avenue South.