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A Confederate memorial fountain in Helena, Montana.
Nate Hegyi

It’s around lunch time in Helena as city employee Patrick Marron stands at the controversial Confederate memorial fountain in Hill Park.

It is the only Confederate memorial in the northwestern United States, and Helena Mayor Jim Smith said it poses a safety concern following last weekend’s violence at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.  

On Wednesday night the Helena City Commission said they wanted the fountain gone.

Greater Yellowstone Coalition's Scott Christensen and Liz Purdy eating lunch at Follow Yer Nose BBQ in Emigrant on their way out to Jardine, MT for a conservation celebration.
Courtesy Caroline Byrd

A Canadian mining company and a pair of conservation groups have finalized agreements they say will protect two tributaries of the Yellowstone River and part of a crucial migration corridor for thousands of elk from Yellowstone National Park.

The Toronto-based mining company donated 549 acres and its water rights for the tributaries near the company's former Mineral Hill Mine site that closed in 2001.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire seen from Missoula on the evening of August 16, 2017.
Anne Hosler

This afternoon, the evacuation order area for the Lolo Peak Fire has been extended south in the Highway 93 corridor. The area currently under evacuation order is on the west side of Highway 93, and now extends South from mile marker 78 all the way to Tie Chute Lane.

There is also a new evacuation warning area from Tie Chute Lane south to Bass Creek Road.

The Lolo Peak Fire sends a large plume of smoke into the air, visible from Missoula on the evening of Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Anne Hosler

Western Montana’s Lolo Peak Fire burned through almost 5,000 acres during its run Wednesday night west of Lolo. Stiff winds spurred that now 15,000 acre fire on its four mile push to the east.

"Where the fire moved, to an extent was not a surprise as it relates to the overall plan. How quickly it moved to where it did, obviously, nobody was necessarily expecting that to happen as quickly as it did," says Lolo Peak Fire Information officer Bill Queen.

Perimeter of the Lolo Peak Fire (in red) as of the afternoon of August 17, 2017.
Inciweb

The 15,000 acre Lolo Peak Fire is quickly outgrowing law enforcement’s ability to secure the estimated 600 homes now evacuated along the Highway 93 and Highway 12 corridors.

Missoula County Commissioners are now considering turning to the Montana National Guard for help.

Inciweb

The Granite County Sheriff’s Office issued a “red” evacuation order yesterday for the Upper Willow Creek area and a “yellow” evacuation warning for the Marshall Creek area due to the Little Hogback Fire, part of the Sapphire Complex burning south of Missoula.

Evacuees check in with Missoula County Sheriff's Department Staff in Lolo Wednesday night
Eric Whitney

Update: 9:50: This from the Missoula County Sheriff's Office: "Due to the recent fire activity, evacuation passes need to be postponed until further notice.

The Lolo Peak Fire plume seen from Florence The Lolo Peak Fire plume seen from Florence about 8:00 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017.8:00 pm Wednesday night
Eric Whitney

There’s a new evacuation order in the Lolo and Traveler’s Rest area issued by the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

This is an evacuation order, not a warning, that includes portions of the Highway 93 and Highway 12 corridors.

Inciweb

Montana's firefighting fund could run dry by the end of the week, the state's budget director acknowledged Wednesday, forcing officials to draw money from emergency reserves to keep crews and equipment on the front lines of the worst collection of wildfires in the U.S.

This massive Black Hawk chopper is on loan from the Montana National Guard as part of the resource-sharing enabled by a state of fire emergency declared by Governor Steve Bullock last month.
Nicky Ouellet

In the past week alone, firefighters in northwest Montana attacked more than 40 small wildfires, and there’s no end in sight for this summer’s active fire season. But, firefighters are about to get some big help.

"That is the Black Hawk coming in right there," says Wyatt Frampton.

Montana's Firefighting Fund Running On Empty

Aug 16, 2017
Montana is spending over a million dollars a day fighting wildfires. These are Goat Creek and Sliderock fires, July 23, 2017.
Inciweb

Montana's firefighting fund will run dry by the end of the week, forcing state officials to begin drawing money from emergency reserves to keep crews and equipment on the front lines of the country's worst collection of wildland fires.

As of today, more than $168 million of mostly federal money has gone into battling about 80 large fires that have charred more than 400,000 acres statewide.

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“This has been a difficult year," Democratic Governor Steve Bullock says. "By some estimates our fire seasons are now about 78 days longer than they were two decades ago.”
Credit Nate Hegyi / YPR

State climatologist Kelsey Jencso says what folks are seeing this summer -- extreme fires, sudden droughts, snowpacks melting quickly -- may be a vision of Montana’s future.

All three members of Montana’s congressional delegation have now commented on the events in Charlottesville.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Nicky Ouellet

The fate of over two dozen national monuments on federal land will be determined in just over a week. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will present his recommendations to President Donald Trump on August 24. They’ll outline which national monuments should be left alone, which should be scaled back, or perhaps even scrapped altogether.

Trump called the monument areas "a massive federal land grab" by previous administrations.

If you’re wondering what climate change will look like in Montana, state climatologist Kelsey Jencso says take a look outside. 

“This is certainly what the future may look like,” he says.

CIRA and NOAA

12:40 p.m. update from Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield:

Good afternoon, Welp. It got bad out there, folks.

Whitefish's community vigil for victims of the Charlottesville, VA, protests drew a large crowd for speeches, prayers and singing.
Nicky Ouellet

There have been many silent moments in Montana this week.

One in Whitefish Tuesday night was held in honor of people who died and were injured while counter-protesting a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday.

Inciweb

The size of the mandatory evacuation area along U.S. Highway 12 west of Lolo has been reduced.

At about 2:00 p.m. Missoula County’s Sheriff allowed residents along a 1.7  mile stretch of Highway 12 back into their homes. That stretch is on the east side of the evacuation area, it’s from mile marker 20 to 21.7.

The original evacuation order applied to about 165 residences. Today’s modification reduces that to about 150.

Confederate memorial in Helena, MT.
Courtesy Tom Kilmer in Helena, MT

Native American lawmakers in Montana are calling for the removal of a memorial to Confederate soldiers in the state's capitol city.

The granite fountain in Helena's Hill Park has been the subject of debate in recent years, as other cities across the country decide the fate of monuments erected to honor the legacy of the Confederacy.

Montana Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Pam Bucy
Courtesy

After almost five years on the job, Montana’s Commissioner of Labor and Industry, Pam Bucy, is moving into the private sector.

“I’m going to stay in Helena. I’m going to join a law firm, The Taylor Luther Group. We’ll be focusing primarily on business and employment law and government relations,” Bucy says.

More than $97 million in state budget reductions are scheduled to kick in August 15, and, across the state,, school districts are preparing to adapt to their share of the cut.

Funding for public education in Montana will decrease by about $19 million over the next two years as declines in state revenues mean across-the-board budget reductions to state agencies.

View from Polson beach area overlooking southern Flathead Lake. Smoke obscures the northern Mission Mountains on the afternoon of August 23, 2016.
Nicky Ouellet

A man who allegedly posed as a U.S. Coast Guard officer and attempted to pull over boats on Flathead Lake will make his first court appearance Wednesday in Lake County Justice Court.

Ryan Lowden of Polson will be charged with three felony counts of impersonating a public official.

Verde Creek night firing operation on the Sunrise fire.
Alan McGuire-Dale/Inciweb

Montana Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale says many homeowners insurance policies can help out with evacuation expenses.

“If you’re subject to a mandatory civil evacuation order many insurance policies will provide extra living expense coverage for up to two weeks,” he says.

The largest wildfire in the U.S. this year burned in Montana, decimating 423 miles of fertile rangeland, and with it, the livelihoods of many Garfield and Petroleum County ranchers.

Republican State Representative Bill Harris of Winnet was one of them. Harris documented much of the disaster that destroyed his ranchland on his personal Facebook. He’s pointing the finger at a nearby Wilderness Study Area (WSA) managed by the Bureau of Land Management as contributing to overall fire devastation.

Inciweb

Parts of Western Montana were breathing a little easier this morning after weekend thunderstorms brought with them cooler temperatures and increased humidity.

But the storms also prompted the evacuation of about 160 homes on either side of Highway 12 west of Lolo mid-day Sunday.

Montana's Health Co-op Remains Standing As Others Falter

Aug 14, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's health care co-op, one of America's few remaining alternatives to traditional health insurance, will resume accepting new enrollees Sunday after it voluntarily pulled itself from the state's insurance marketplace in December.

The insurer took the nine-month hiatus from enrolling new members in the exchange created by President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act to boost its financial reserves and keep it from the same fate that has befallen failed co-ops across the country.

About 30 coal cars in a Montana Rail Link freight train derailed this weekend along the Clark Fork River in northwestern Montana.

MRL spokesman Joe Lewis says the derailment happened at about 11 p.m. Sunday near Noxon, just east of the Idaho border.

One of the five helicopters DNRC has stationed around the state to fight wildfires.
Corin Cates-Carney

A few miles north of Lincoln, wildfires are burning more than 9,000 acres along steep slopes full of thick brush and snags.

Matt Conklin is a Forest Service incident commander. He says these fires are among the few that escaped initial attacks to put them out.

Inciweb

Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield's latest air quality report:

"Good news, everyone! The air is as good as it looks and smells! We're looking at generally Good to Moderate air quality everywhere but Seeley Lake. Not only can you see the mountains, you can see the trees on the mountains. 

Inciweb

Updated 6:30 p.m.

Encouraging news from Lolo Peak Fire spokesman Mark Struble: Now that the cold front has passed through western Montana, the winds have significantly abated, a little bit of rain fell and relative humidity spiked up to about 50-percent for a while.

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