HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Much-needed rain quieted three dozen major wildfires ravaging Montana, but fire officials warned crews and area residents Sunday not to let their guard down yet.

“It’s still a fairly tentative situation,” said Sandy Kratville, an information officer with the Northern Rockies Interagency Information Center in Missoula. “We’re staying ready.”

Kratville said the coming week was expected to bring more of the same conditions that had fed the fires for the past month: dry air and high temperatures.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires still active Sunday had burned about 520,900 acres in seven Western states. Fires in Montana accounted for almost 350,000 of those acres.

A complex of fires about 35 miles from Missoula was still keeping about 200 people from their homes. In the eastern part of the state, at least five blazes were contained during the weekend, freeing firefighters to help farther west.

“We’re taking advantage of the weather as we have it,” said fire information officer Gary Hoshide. “It’s still volatile out there.”

Cooler temperatures and some rain also aided firefighting efforts in Wyoming, where the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park reopened for a few hours Sunday – the first time in more than a week.

The entrance will be closed again Monday for a planned burnout to keep a pair of wildfires from spreading.

About 50 miles southeast, helicopters dropped water to prevent a fire feeding on beetle-killed trees in the Shoshone National Forest from burning into drainage basins occupied by a campground, several homes and historic structures.

The weather also helped firefighters in British Columbia, Canada, where some of the worst wildfires have burned.

In the western city of Kelowna, where flames destroyed more than 200 homes and forced the evacuation of 24,000 people, emergency officials said 2,000 evacuees were allowed to return home Sunday. Winds were expected to remain mild until Tuesday.

In central Oregon, a fire in the Deschutes National Forest grew to 30,950 acres Sunday, but firefighters kept it from moving closer to 400 homes in Camp Sherman or to Black Butte Ranch, both a few miles away.

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On the Net:

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

Yellowstone fires: http://www.nps.gov/yell/technical/fire

Shoshone fires: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/shoshone/forestmgt/fire

AP-ES-08-24-03 2007EDT



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