Glacier County has been battered by hurricane-force winds for at least the past 24 hours, with gusts nearing 100 miles per hour, and early Wednesday morning, those winds helped fan a large wildfire just east of Browning.
By noon, the fire was 90% contained, after burning an estimated 450 acres stretching more than seven miles.
There were no serious injuries reported. No homes were destroyed, but some barns and outbuildings were torched, and several animals perished.
Blackfeet Reservation public information officer James McNeely credits the fast response of firefighters for preventing even more damage.
Browning Public Schools superintendent Corrina Guardipee-Hall says that she woke up to the howling winds and knew there would be trouble.
All of the Browning schools were closed today due to the winds, the fire, and several power outages throughout the county.
“I woke up to the winds being nearly 100 miles per hour," she said, “Even I had trouble getting into the office today and I knew if I have problems other people were as well and I didn’t want to risk the safety of anyone.”
“We took all of this into consideration and decided it was better to cancel school,” said Hall.
(DECEMBER 1, 2021, 11:41 a.m.) A large wildfire continues burning east of Browning, and is now said to be about 90% contained.
The fire was reported at about 3:30 a.m and has burned an estimated 450 acres and covered nearly seven miles.
Extremely powerful winds have been fueling the flames, and tipped over at least one semi truck in the area.
As of 11:30 a.m., evacuation orders have been lifted, and US Highway 2 has re-opened.
From the Glacier County Sheriff's Office: "US 2 between Cut Bank and Browning is open. There is still intermittent smoke causing low visibility as you pass through the Blackfoot area. Please proceed slowly with caution as you travel by this incident."
Responding agencies include East Glacier, Babb, Shelby, Cut Bank, Valier, and others. In addition, nearby Hutterite colonies helped bring water to the firefighters.
At least 75 personnel have been involved in fighting the fire.
There have been no reports of injuries, and no reports of any damaged structure at this point.
From the Glacier County Sheriff's Office: "There are strong winds fueling a large fire west of Blackfoot near US Highway 2. We have the Highway shut down between the “Y” and Blackfoot. Please alter your travel plans if they include that route."
From Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services: "US2 East from Browning to Meriweather is shut down per Department of Transportation. Please use an alternate route and stay off the roads. Vehicles on the road are making it harder for emergency personnel to do their jobs."
From Blackfeet Incident Command: "All Tribal Offices will be closed today due to severe winds. Also, there is a fire burning east of Browning and all residents are being evacuated to the Browning Middle School. Please contact KWebb Galbreath for any questions or concerns (406) 317-3040."
From Glacier County DES: "Browning Middle School being set up for Evacuees from Fire."
From Glacier Electric Cooperative: "We are aware of the outages affecting parts of East Glacier, Babb, St.Mary, Little Badger, and parts of Browning. We are working on all the outages at this time and have crews on site. There will be an extended outage up to 5 hours for areas closest to the fire in Blackfoot. This includes surrounding areas of Blackfoot, South of Viaduct to North of Heart Butte, Dog Gun Lake, Little Badger, and Old Agency."
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.