Two homes confirmed destroyed, evacuation order lifted for Pine Crest Fire, fire danager returning Tuesday
UPDATED AT 1:10 P.M. - MARCH 31, 2015
The Pine Crest Fire is now at 45 percent containment, thanks to a small army of fire crew workers and cooperative weather Sunday and Monday.
Crews were bracing for Red Flag Warning weather conditions forecast by the National Weather Service (NWS) that is expected to bring a return of strong gusty wind, above normal temperatures and low humidities to region. Those elements together are expected to contribute to "extreme fire behavior,"according to the NWS.
The Red Flag Warning was in effect until 9 p.m. Wednesday and conditions were expected to change Tuesday afternoon to early evening.
Additionally, a multi-agency investigation of Columbus Fire Rescue and the state Fire Marshal's Office is underway in an effort to determine what sparked the roughly 3,000 acre blaze.
Two homes have been burned.
A relatively calm day Sunday and Monday allowed crews to go from a 10 percent containment to the current 45 percent, said Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) Incident Commander Dave Hamilton.
The Stillwater County Sheriff's Office has lifted the evacuation order, allowing "only locals" back in to their homes. Approximately 89 homes are located in the two-section subdivision and 58 Reverse 911 phone call evacuations went out Saturday, said Sheriff Cliff Brophy.
More than 40 residents attended the Monday morning meeting, at which they thanked fire crews with a round of applause for swift action, and also posed questions, such as the possibility of imposing burning restrictions as well as the cause of the blaze.
"The investigation is ongoing right now," said Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger.
One firefighter suffered what Cowger called a minor injury.
Pine Crest resident Tammie Mullikin described a nightmarish scene with neighbors "running for their lives" from a fast-moving, wind-driven fire.
Mullikin and her husband Ken live on the lower side of the subdivision that was not evacuated. But Ken went to retrieve their horses from the upper eastern edge of the subdivision, where he was greeted by swirling flames.
Mullikin said all the ground-cover is gone, but many trees remain standing in the hardest area hit.
For updates on the fire, the following sites are available: inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/ and the Facebook pages of Columbus Fire Rescue and the Stillwater County Sheriff's Office.
Columbus Fire Rescue, Absarokee fire crews, Park City fire crews, the Sheriff's Office, DNRC, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service are jointly working on the blaze with a total of 18 engines, three helicopters, two water tenders, one heavy equipment and a total of 126 people.