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Neighbors recount chaos of Frenchtown-area fire evacuations

By Scott Zoltan, KECI Reporter, szoltan@keci.com
Published On: Jul 26 2013 07:07:22 PM MDT
Updated On: Jul 26 2013 10:34:41 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

On Friday fire crews gave NBC Montana a tour of the area scorched by the Mill Creek Fire burning near Frenchtown.

Friday night the fire had burned 720 acres, and crews had obtained 30 percent containment. Teams spent time working controlled burns in vulnerable areas on the fire's perimeter, to prepare for expected winds on Saturday.

NBC Montana caught up with several residents who discussed their evacuation experience.

“When the Sheriff shows up to your door and says 'you oughta go,' you go…We grabbed our cat, our bird, our medicines and took off down the road,” said Scott Fahrenbruck.

Down the street a family told NBC Montana how firefighters went into their house when they were gone, to wrangle their three dogs and a parrot.

“That’s what we were mostly concerned about, is our animals, because they’re our family,” said Cherie Moore.

“They let us come back for the cat because they couldn’t catch it, it was quite frightening,” said John Moore.

Authorities lifted voluntary evacuations early Friday morning.

The cause of the incident is still under investigation, though reports indicate that it may have been caused by a spark from a lawnmower.

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Here is Friday's evening update from Information Officer Forrest Merrill:

Firefighters from local departments and agencies are currently on the fire today working on containment lines around the fire. The strategy is to keep the 720 acre fire from growing.

Current Size: 720 acres
Containment: 30%
Personnel Assigned: 175

Resources on Fire: Fire engines from DNRC, Frenchtown, and private contractors; the Lolo Hot Shots, Lone Peak Hot Shots, and Grayback Crews. Several pieces of heavy equipment are here or have been ordered (bulldozers, a pumper cat, and skidgines). Aviation resources are available from Missoula but not utilized yet today.

Special Concerns: SAFETY of firefighters and the public is a primary concern. Mill Creek Road, Fred Lane, and the section of Frenchtown frontage road between those is closed, except for emergency and residential traffic. Please observe the reduced speed limit along I-90 and do not pull off roads into dry grass.

Cause: Human, under investigation.

Prevention Message: It’s HOT and DRY! Even pulling off the road to watch the fire could ignite tinder-dry grasses under your vehicle! Reminder that Missoula County entered Very High fire danger this week. The public is reminded to be extremely cautious with all sources of ignition.