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Extreme fire behavior from a fire in the Crazy Mountains prompted officials to issue a mandatory evacuation order over the weekend.

The Meagher County Sheriff’s Office posted a mandatory evacuation order for the Smith Creek Subdivision on Saturday, citing extreme fire behavior from the nearby American Fork fire as the reason. There are over 180 firefighters on the fire and it is only about 10% contained. The fire grew to 14,397 acres over the weekend, according to the latest aerial infrared mapping on Friday.

A member of the Meagher County Sheriff’s Department dispatch said the mandatory evacuation order will last as long as fire danger remains imminent. There was a pre-evacuation notice released earlier last week, which gave residents of the Smith Creek Subdivision time to get ready to leave. Residents who could not find a place to go were advised to contact the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross set up an evacuation center Saturday night at the Shields Valley Senior Citizens Center in response to the evacuation order. Matt Ochsner, American Red Cross regional communications director for Montana and Idaho, said that no one checked in over the weekend and that the shelter has since been placed on standby.

“There hasn’t been any request for services, but we are on standby and ready to respond,” Ochsner said.

Tim Webb, a member of the American Fork fire incident command team, said that fire behavior was moderate over the weekend, with not much of an increase in the fire’s size. Higher humidity could have helped to slow the fire, Webb said.

Much of last week’s growth was brought on by winds from the east pushing the fire west, but those winds have now shifted west and southwest.

“There is a definite priority on structure protection to the west side of the fire,” Webb said. “We’re in pretty good shape on the east side.”

The north end of the fire has quieted down, with the blaze having made contact with the footprint of the Blacktail fire from 2017, Webb said. The east side of the fire is in good shape too with little to no expansion, Webb said. But the southern front is a big concern, with the area populated with heavy, dry timber.

But rain could be on the way.

Ray Greely, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service out of Great Falls, said that scattered showers and thunderstorms are hovering around the American Fork fire area. Between a tenth of an inch to more than an inch is forecasted for Monday afternoon and into the night. The storms might bring heavy rain, which could lead to flash flooding in some areas.

The National Weather Service forecast showed that the Crazy Mountains had an 80% chance of rain by midafternoon.

“It will certainly help to slow fire progression and slow some hot spots down,” Webb said. “The reality though is that we’re still in extreme drought conditions.”

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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