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Another day of active burning on Montana wildfires; new evacuations near Libby

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HELENA, Montana — Another warm, windy day challenged crews battling numerous wildfires in western Montana and brought more evacuations Saturday.

About 20 residences in rural areas south of Libby were told to evacuate Saturday morning because of one of several fires burning in the Kootenai National Forest, fire spokeswoman Jennifer McCully said.

Fire managers were asking for more firefighters, but prospects for help were uncertain Saturday afternoon, McCully said. "We're trying but the resources are so limited right now," she said.

Elsewhere, the towns of Essex in Flathead County and Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation remain under evacuation orders.

Montana National Guard troops were called in to help fight the fire on the reservation, and more crews are being sought, according to fire spokeswoman Margaret Hangan. "We'll see what we can get," Hangan said.

A shelter was set up by the Red Cross and the Blackfeet tribe at nearby Browning for evacuees. About 200 people registered at the shelter Saturday, and another 100 people are likely staying nearby with family, said James McNeely, assistant to the Blackfeet tribal chairman.

"Our children are scared," Heart Butte resident Rebecca Rider, who has lived in the community for all of her 55 years, told the Great Falls Tribune (http://gftrib.com/1LCEhp0). "I've never seen anything like it."

Near Essex, crews were able to make progress on building a fuel break to protect the town, which was ordered evacuated on Thursday. The terrain and weather conditions were too dangerous to have crews directly attack the fire on the ground, fire spokesman Gregg DeNitto said.

Direct firefighting has been limited to dropping water and retardant from the air, he said.

DeNitto said traffic on a major rail line for passenger and cargo trains was running mostly overnight and during the early morning hours when the fire was not as active.

The rail line is a major route for passenger and cargo trains hauling oil, coal and agricultural products to the Northwest.

Firefighters battling blazes in the Bull Lake area in Lincoln County made progress Saturday, fire spokeswoman Peri Suenram said.

Although there was only a small amount of rain in the area, "it certainly helped," Suenram said. "Cloud cover and smoke moderated the weather. It's really a great day for mopping up."

A new fire was reported Friday in a remote area about 20 miles northeast of Bozeman.

Besides the Kootenai, fires are burning in the Flathead, Lolo, Custer Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Helena, Bitterroot and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests as well as in Glacier National Park.

A cold front was expected to bring cooler temperatures Sunday but not much precipitation.

"It will be cooler, but it's still going to be dry," Hangan said.

PHOTO: In this Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 photo, Allison Stahl carries a basket of clothing to her car as firefighters walk past on their way to establish a hose line in Essex, Mont. The area was evacuated Thursday afternoon in the face of the growing Sheep Fire threatening the community at the southern edge of Glacier National Park. (Aaric Bryan/The Daily Inter Lake via AP)
In this Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 photo, Allison Stahl carries a basket of clothing to her car as firefighters walk past on their way to establish a hose line in Essex, Mont. The area was evacuated Thursday afternoon in the face of the growing Sheep Fire threatening the community at the southern edge of Glacier National Park. (Aaric Bryan/The Daily Inter Lake via AP)

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