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High temperatures and strong winds blew a wildfire that started south of Red Lodge over the weekend to an estimated 21,000 acres by Wednesday evening, spurring evacuations around the Montana-Wyoming border.

Meanwhile, hot, dry and windy conditions fueled growth in a second wildfire between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs. Officials confirmed the fire destroyed multiple structures, which was listed as human caused but under further investigation Wednesday evening on the wildfire information hub InciWeb.

A Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation helicopter that was fighting the Townsend-area wildfire caught on fire during a crash. All five passengers were able to escape the helicopter safely.

The Robertson Draw fire was first reported at around 3 p.m. on Sunday in a remote area approximately 12 miles south of Red Lodge.

On Monday, the wildfire torched 200 acres of timber, sage and grass in the Beartooth Mountains near the Montana-Wyoming border. A plume of smoke erupted from the fire area above the Beartooth Plateau along Highway 212.

By Tuesday morning, it had reached an estimated 2,000 acres. It was encroaching on structures throughout the Ruby and Gold Creek drainages, spurring evacuation orders, which were lifted and then reinstated.

Winds picked up and temperatures soared to record levels later on Tuesday. Weather conditions drove extreme fire behavior, which made fighting the fire safely on the ground nearly impossible, according to the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

A large cloud of dark smoke billowed from the mountains around Red Lodge on Tuesday afternoon. The plume near Red Lodge could also be spotted from Interstate 90 between Livingston and Bozeman.

Officials have evacuated residences in multiple areas near the Robertson Draw fire. Forest Service residences, campgrounds, dispersed camping areas and trailheads in multiple drainages around Red Lodge have also been evacuated. The town of Bearcreek was under an evacuation warning on Wednesday.

The wildfire was 0% contained as of around 4:40 p.m. Wednesday. A Red Cross shelter was set up at the Veteran Memorial Civic Center in Red Lodge.

While the Robertson Draw fire burned tens of thousands of acres south of Red Lodge, the Deep Creek fire destroyed structures between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs, according to the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.

The Deep Creek fire was first reported around 3:45 p.m. on Sunday afternoon along the north side of Highway 12 in the Deep Creek Canyon area. First responders found that a fallen tree had downed a powerline, but the fire’s cause is still being investigated.

The fire spread through timber and brush around the Big Belt Mountains, growing to approximately 175 acres by Monday morning. It crossed Highway 12 amid red flag fire conditions on Tuesday, forcing evacuations.

The fire sent up a large plume of smoke that could be seen north of Bozeman and Interstate 90 in Livingston. The Deep Creek fire had burned at least 2,000 acres by Wednesday afternoon, officials estimated.

Grassy Mountain Subdivision has been evacuated and Highway 12 East was closed. In a Wednesday news release, the Forest Service urged people to avoid Duck Creek Road because of downed trees and other hazards.

Officials confirmed that structures were lost, but have not released details on the extent of the damage.

A DNRC helicopter that was responding to the Deep Creek fire crashed around 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Forest Service. All five people on board were able to escape the aircraft safely. They are being treated by medical staff.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said Tuesday in a social media post that he was relieved those involved in the accident were getting necessary medical attention.

Montana’s U.S. Sen. Steve Daines announced Wednesday that Federal Emergency Management Agency funds had been authorized to aid Montana’s firefighting costs for the Robertson Draw fire.

“I’m glad to see Montana receive the help it needs to ensure our firefighters and first responders are able to fight this growing fire,” Daines said in a news release. “I will continue to monitor the situation and work with local officials to protect our communities and secure critical resources to help contain the Robertson Draw Fire.”

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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