- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - This week’s hot, dry weather has helped ignite dozens of new wildfires across Montana and Idaho, and Friday’s conditions were only going to make things worse, officials said.

Firefighters must contend with thunderstorms packing lightning and strong winds that could start new blazes and lead existing ones to spread. The moisture the storms bring won’t be enough to help crews battling drought conditions along much of the Northern Rocky Mountains, said Bryan Henry of the Northern Rockies Coordination Center’s fire predictive services.

“It’s going to be a very difficult day for them today,” Henry said. “The main threat will be from straight-line winds. The areas most susceptible are areas with emerging or developed fires from Missoula north, and along Continental Divide.

“The lightning associated with these storms is probably going to be prolific and give us even more starts,” he added.

Temperatures in the 90s and low 100s and low humidity this week have made for extreme fire conditions in the bone-dry Northern Rockies. Sixty-six new fires started Thursday and 89 started Wednesday across the region that includes Montana, Idaho and parts of North Dakota and Wyoming, according to the coordination center.

Along with two large fires in Glacier National Park, outbreaks of flames have been reported from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to the Helena National Forest northeast of Lincoln, according to the coordination center.

The weather conditions helped the largest Montana fire, in Glacier National Park, spread from just a few acres when it was reported Sunday to more than 23 square miles as of Friday morning. It is uncontained in a remote area in the southern part of the park, where it has forced some trail closures and is threatening two cabins, fire officials said.

Likewise, the fire burning near Lincoln has grown to 2 square miles since lightning started it Monday. Its rapid growth has led to the evacuation orders of a dozen nearby cabins, most of which are second homes.

In southwest Idaho, more than 400 firefighters were fighting a 340-square-mile fire near the Oregon border.

A red-flag warning was in effect for all of central Montana on Friday, with heat and wind gusts of up to 65 mph forecast in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

“Any existing fires or fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” a National Weather Service advisory said.

In western Montana and parts of Idaho, thunderstorms were forecast to bring hail, strong winds and possible flash flooding, the weather service said.

Cooler weather is expected to return Saturday and continue into next week.

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