4 firefighters out of hospital after 5 injured in Montana
BILLINGS, Montana (AP) — Four firefighters have been released from the hospital and a fifth was being treated at a burn center Monday after a Montana wildfire overran them last week, authorities said.
The five firefighters were injured when swirling winds blew a lightning-caused wildfire back on them Thursday. They had been trying to build a defensive line to stop the blaze in the Devils Creek area of Garfield County in central Montana.
The firefighter still being treated — a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee — suffered the most injuries of the agency personnel involved but “is making good progress and is in good spirits,” spokesperson Kari Cobb said.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said Monday after being sworn in to lead the agency that the firefighting community was like a family and the pain is felt widely whenever someone gets hurt.
Across the U.S. West this summer, firefighters have confronted an unusually large number of wildfires early in the season as climate change continues to warm the landscape and drought grips most of the region. That’s making it harder to control and put out fires, Moore said.
He recalled a recent small blaze in the Lava Beds area of California that firefighters thought they had doused, only to have flames flare up again after they burned through a system of tree roots and traveled beneath a containment line.
“It’s off the charts in terms of how some of these fires are behaving,” Moore said.
Of the five firefighters injured in Montana, two of those released from the hospital are engine crew members based at the Quemado Ranger District in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, according to Forest Service spokesperson Punky Moore.
The other three are wildlife service crew members based at the Eastern North Dakota Wetland Management District Complex.
The Devils Creek Fire they had been fighting grew overnight Sunday to 10 square miles (26 square kilometers). Crews have been trying to keep it from approaching the nearby Fort Peck Reservoir along the Missouri River.
Investigators from an interagency team were examining the scene of last week’s injuries to better determine what happened, Moore said.
“All we know is that the time of the accident, there was a sudden wind shift and there had been thunderstorms in the area with erratic winds,” she said.
It was unclear when the results of the probe would be released.