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Montana Firefighters Battling Roaring Lion Fire

Montana wildfire evacuations: 500 homes threatened by 2,000-acre blaze 0:17

Wildfires raged Monday in a rugged corner of Montana known as Roaring Lion as firefighters struggled to douse the flames.

Some 200 homes have already been evacuated and at least a dozen were destroyed as wildfires consumed more than 3,500 acres some six miles southwest of Hamilton, Montana, officials said.

"We're just trying to get people out of the way now," Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay told the local Ravalli Republic newspaper. "We can rebuild homes. We need to get people out of this area."

No deaths or injuries have been reported — but the smoke was so thick over the nearby Bitterroot National Forest that, at times, it nearly blotted-out the sun.

Fueled by high winds and hot temperatures, the flames erupted around 2:15 p.m. Sunday and quickly started to spread.

Image: Flames and smoke rise from the roaring Lion Wildfire
Flames and smoke rise from the roaring Lion Wildfire. Discover Bitterroot National Forest

An hour later, it was threatening houses.

"We skipped stage one evacuations and went immediately to stage two, which is 'get out of here,'" Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman told the local paper.

First responders were fighting the fire on the ground and using aircraft to drop water on the blaze from the sky, local NBC affiliate KECI reported. But they were getting little help from Mother Nature.

While the winds were expected to die down later Monday, the National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch for the Bitterroot and West and East Lolo districts. And the low humidity means conditions are tinder dry.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, and the Ravalli County Emergency Operations Center is now open.

The Red Cross has also set up a shelter at a local Hamilton church and threatened livestock were being herded in the Ravalli County Fairgrounds.