High winds cause fire, power outages

Managing Editor | Reporter

A downed telephone pole sits at the corner of the 200-300 acre fire it started outside of Hobson Sunday afternoon.

Photo courtesy of the Judith Basin County Sheriff’s Office Facebook Page

A weather disturbance from the Gulf of Alaska barreled through Central Montana Sunday, causing wind guests of nearly hurricane level, downing power lines and starting at least one small fire.

According to Meteorologist Scott Coulston, high pressure over the Western U.S. butted up to a cold front coming from the Gulf of Alaska, creating high winds between the two weather features. The result was winds of up to 70 to 80 mph at 10,000 feet, and in the 40 to 50 mph level lower down.

“The highest gust recorded in Lewistown at the airport was 61 mph,” Coulston said. “At the top of Judith Peak we recorded one gust of 75 mph. Winnett saw gusts of 54 mph.”

Coulston confirmed that hurricane speed winds are from 74 mph and up.

“There was a high wind warning out for the whole of north central Montana Sunday,” Coulston said. “The winds were widespread across the state.”

According to Dale Rikala, line superintendent for Fergus Electric, the winds led to power outages in several areas, including Geyser, Hobson, Maiden, White Sulphur Springs and the Lewistown Divide. Most of the problems were “tree related,” Rikala said, referring to tree limbs blowing down on to electric wires.

Neither MidRivers nor NorthWestern Energy reported any problems in the Lewistown area, although NorthWestern had an outage near White Sulphur Springs, according to spokesman Butch Larkin.

The wind did snap a power pole near Hobson, though, starting a 200-300 acre blaze just east of Hwy 400 and a couple of miles south of Ackley Lake Road. Judith Basin County Sheriff’s Deputy Cody Anderson reported his office was called at 2:50 Sunday afternoon.

“The high winds blew over a telephone pole, and the power line hit a barbed-wire fence and started sparking,” he said.

Hobson Rural Fire requested assistance after responding, according to Anderson, prompting fire crews from Moore and Windham to join the effort. Sapphire Village and Buffalo also sent trucks, and a grazed-down pasture helped firefighters get the blaze under control around 4 p.m.

Moore Rural Fire District Chief Jerry Simpson said the crews had some additional help.

“There was a lot of what we call emergency volunteers,” he said. “Anybody that had anything to fight fire with: farmers, ranchers, there were a of couple tractors and some loaders. It was a real community event, and that’s why it stayed contained.”

The blaze should have been worse, according to Simpson, but the hard and quick response was invaluable. He hoped the fire would remind Central Montanans the fire season isn’t over.

“The fuel load is still out there,” he said. “What people have to realize is that we’re just now heading into our substantially windy time of the year, and the fire danger is still really high until we get a substantial, sticky snow.”

NorthWestern Energy, Moore Farmers Oil and BHS Big Sky also responded to Sunday’s blaze.



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