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August 04, 2008 2:13 pm

Cascade Fire flares Wednesday

Written by Tribune Staff

Fire crews are making headway on the Cascade Fire six miles west of Red Lodge, Mont., but last week the fire was rapidly gaining ground.
Monday morning, the fire was over 10,000 acres and it is 44 percent contained.
Now, the type I crew is not too worried that it will spread to the town.
Red Lodge Mountain Resort was evacuated Wednesday, but Mark Wurdeman, fire spokesman, said crews returned the next day.
Last Wednesday on an outing with Jeff Gildehaus, information officer for Custer National Forest, the fire's fury was felt.
Gildehaus drove a few media personnel up a rough switchback road above the ski area.
Gazing at the valley below is like looking through beige-tinted sunglasses as a dusty film settles over the valley.
Steve Creech, branch 1 manager, takes the spike camp's supply order while sitting on a spiny ridge painted red with fire retardant.
Meals Ready to Eat and chain saw fuel top the list.
Though smoky, it is a breathtaking scene with rolling ridges of timber running on intersecting courses.
At around 1:30 p.m., about three ridges from Creech's position, smoke pours up to the top like steam from a tea kettle. A light breeze suddenly morphs into 30 mph gusts.
Spurred by the wind, the smoke charges up the hill. A column of smoke surges toward the sky with orange flames snapping at its base. Smoke roils across the ridge.
Creech's radio cackles. An airplane flies over the ridge, then disappears in the thick, gray soup.
“It's making a run for the top,” says the air command's voice through Cheech's radio.
A bulldozer operator had been cutting a fire line roughly west from the ski area to a safety zone on a ridge.
“I'd get your dozer off the ridge there as fast as you can,” said air command.
It is time to go for the reporters too.
Gildehaus herds the media to his pickup to make the long drive down the road.
If the fire takes the ridge, it has only two more ridges to go before reaching the ski area, Gildehaus said.
Near the base of the mountain, at an employee dorm and administration building, firefighters from Park City, Mont., Fire Department man a water cannon. The water spouts from the nozzle like curved geyser soaking everything in its path.
It is peaceful here. The smoke column above remains visible, but seems worlds apart from the fire engines and the cool misty backwash of the cannon.
“We will save these structures,” said Dennis Baumann of the Red Lodge Volunteer Fire Department.
Baumann isn't fretting over his town either.
“We got a lot of distance between here and the city.”
If by chance the fire reaches the flats above Red Lodge, the firefighters will put it out, Baumann said.
Gildehaus said if the fire stays on the ground, the ski area should be safe. However, if it gets into the tree tops the ski area will be much more difficult to defend.
Like a wave, the smoke is pouring down the mountain and into the camp at around 4:30 p.m. By then the amount of acreage burned was 7,539.
The fire is growing on the north side of the West Fork of Rock Creek, said Scott Barton at the fire information office.
Personnel at the ski area are on alert; the fire is two miles away.
The winds have picked up and the fire is spotting one quarter to one half miles, Barton said.
Spotting is flying embers.
At 4:50 p.m., the ski area was evacuated.
By the next day crews were back. On Monday, the ski area was being prepared for the winter season.