The first victim,

a 47-year-old man,

fell Friday while battling the blaze.

CONDON, Mont. (AP) – Montana, far removed from the epic blackouts in the Northeast, faced electricity problems of its own Friday as wildfires threatened power lines.

NorthWestern Energy, the state’s major electricity supplier with about 300,000 customers, warned that blackouts were possible in several areas this weekend.

“We’re doing all we can to prevent this from happening, but we want our customers in the Butte, Bozeman, Missoula and Hamilton areas to be prepared in the event the situation deteriorates,” said Dave Gates, the company’s vice president of transmission operations.

NorthWestern said its crews were working with firefighters to prevent damage to power lines.

Dozens of fires – most of them the result of lightning strikes – continued to burn across much of Montana. Forecasts of strong wind and the possibility of more lightning storms this weekend have crews across the state on edge.

Near Condon, in northwestern Montana, two dozen homes remained evacuated and officials were warning dozens of other property owners along scenic Lindbergh and Holland lakes that they also may have to leave because of a fire that grew to about 7,700 acres Friday.

Authorities said Montana suffered its first firefighter death of the season Friday. A 49-year-old firefighter from Massachusetts was found dead in his tent at a fire camp outside Missoula. The man’s name was not released; authorities said the death remained under investigation.

At least eight wildfires continued to burn in the Missoula area, and residents in more than 900 rural houses were on notice they may have to leave.

Officials reopened the west entrance to Glacier National Park, even as firefighters were warned to expect extreme fire behavior. Three major fires continued burning in the 1 million-acre park, which planned to open another key road Saturday.

In Wyoming, a 3,200-acre fire kept the east gate to Yellowstone National Park closed Friday, the second time the popular entrance has been shut this week. Visitors had to make a 29-mile detour to the northeast entrance near Cooke City, Mont.

Park spokeswoman Marsha Karle said there was “lots of smoke, lots of flame and trees falling over” near the east gate. “We’ll get that road open again as soon as it’s safe to do so, and I don’t know when that will be.”

No structures were threatened by the fire. Several trails were closed, but all of Yellowstone’s services and major attractions remained open, along with four other entrances.



On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov

AP-ES-08-15-03 1931EDT



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