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Firefighters are moving back to their battle with the larger parts of the Thompson River Complex fires between Plains and Thompson Falls after high winds forced a retreat late Wednesday.

“We had 120 personnel in there, but they had to pull out last night,” fire information officer John Hamilton said on Thursday. “It made a little run on us. We’re looking at one big fire rather than two smaller ones on Koo-Koo-Sint 1 and 2.”

The two smaller Spruce Creek fires in the complex also showed new activity, with the whole blaze now mapped across 603 acres. The fire is burning in high cliffs above Highway 200 about 7 miles east of Thompson Falls.

Firefighters had to be carried by helicopter to reach the inaccessible perimeter of the fires, and many of them retreated the same way when Wednesday’s winds came up, Hamilton said.

That’s also increased the risk of burning debris rolling down the cliffs onto the roadway. Electronic warning signs are in place east and west of the burn area to warn motorists of the hazard.

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Both helicopters and single-engine aerial tanker planes continue to drop water and retardant on the Thompson River Complex. Hamilton said the current Type 3 incident command team may be replaced by a larger Type 2 team this weekend if the fire keeps growing.

Farther east, Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal firefighters are working on the 200-acre Seepay fire in the mountains 6 miles south of Perma on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Crews are using heavy equipment to place indirect control lines near the burn area, according to spokesman Rob McDonald. He said the terrain was remote and very steep, with a lot of downed, beetle-killed timber.

Seepay Creek Road, Vanderburg Creek Road, Magpie Creek Road and Three Lakes Peak Trailhead have all been closed due to fire activity.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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