Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

New Boy Scout Policy: Too Soon To Feel Montana Impact

Aug 26, 2015

Last month, the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on gay scout leaders, but Boy Scout officials in Montana say it’s too soon to tell whether the national organization’s policy change will have much of an impact here.

The Marston Fire on the Kootenai National Forest

NOTE: We'll add information to this update today as it becomes available.

In general fires in northwestern Montana are being held in check by the thick layer of smoke over the area.

Montana’s Public Service Commission this morning voted to sue Century Link after rural customers complained of spotty telephone service.
Eric Whitney

Some rural Montana telephone customers have extracted a promise from CenturyLink for more reliable service. People in remote areas have long complained that their phones will go dead for days at a time, making it impossible to summon help in an emergency.

Walter McClintock, photographer / Yale Collection of Western Americana

Most Montanans have been to Glacier National Park, although few of us know about what went on in that landscape before 1910, the year the Park was created. But now, thanks to a new book published by the Montana Historical Society Press, we have stories about the people who lived there.


It’s been another bad day for air quality across much of the state. Today Libby became the first location to enter the “hazardous” air quality category on the state Department of Environmental quality’s air monitoring website.

"It’s pretty bad out there," says Jennifer McCully, public health coordinator for Lincoln County.


Fire danger has prompted Plum Creek Timber Company to restrict some activities on all its western Montana properties until further notice.

Plum Creek Vice President Tom Ray says the company isn't allowing any camping, campfires, firewood cutting, smoking, fireworks or target shooting.

"Any of those types of activities are now precluded because it's just so dry. It's just extremely dry."

Peggy Miller, InciWeb

For the latest air quality information for Montana, click on this link to the state Department of Environmental Quality's wildfire smoke updates page.

The Sheep Fire continues to threaten Essex. It is burning about a mile south of Essex at this time.

An update from the Forest Service this morning says:

Sen. Tester urged the crowd to advocate for LWCF funding at an August 24 rally in Missoula, MT.
Josh Burnham

About 60 people rallied in Missoula's McCormick Park Monday afternoon to urge Congressional support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Fire officials say they're working to keep the Sawtooth Fire from the Ross Creek Cedars, a popular tourist destination on the Kootenai National Forest
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0)

In far northwest Montana, about 85 homes remain evacuated due to the Napoleon fire. It’s part of what’s now being called the Clark Fork Complex of six fires straddling the Montana - Idaho border.

 Sikorsky Sky Crane Type-1 Helicopter drops fire retardant on the Thompson-Divide Complex’s Sheep Fire burning west of Highway 2 between Mile Markers 182 and 181 about 1 mile south of Essex, MT, Aug. 22, 2015.
Jonathan Moor/Inciweb

The thick blanket of wildfire smoke over western Montana is a proving a blessing and a curse for firefighters in the state. The hazy conditions can rob fires of the oxygen they need to grow, but at the same time prevent aircraft from being able to drop water and fire retardant.

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 21, 2015

Aug 21, 2015
Firefighter planning meeting on the Scotchman's Gulch Fire.

It was another active fire week in western Montana. Fires forced evacuations in Sanders County, closed part of Highway 2, and put the town of Essex on alert. Nowhere in western Montana escaped the choking smoke produced by dozens of fires burning in the state and in neighboring Idaho and Washington.

A helicopter on initial attack on the Burke Gulch fire this week, one of 40 lightning-caused wildfires crews have contained since Aug. 10.
Courtesy Cory Rennaker Bitterroot Helitack

Governor Steve Bullock sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service today saying he’s frustrated that Montana’s fleet of firefighting helicopters often can’t be used to attack fires on federal land.

Plum Creek Timber's Columbia Falls fiberboard plant
Katrin Frye

No lives were lost, no one was injured and no one will be laid off. That from Plum Creek Timber Company officials in response to yesterday's small explosion and fire at its medium-density fiberboard plant in Columbia Falls.

The BlueSky Daily Runs animated map predicts the location of wildfire smoke.
U.S. Forest Service

Wondering where you can go to get away from the smoke? This animated map from the Forest Service predicts where smoke from wildfires will be concentrated.

3 fires burning near Noxon have prompted evacuations orders along Highway 56, and filled the air with smoke.
Courtesy Geri Lee

Near the Montana - Idaho state line in Sanders County today, an additional 30 to 40 homes north of Noxon have been evacuated, a day after fire officials told residents in about 14 other homes to leave.

Wind and very low humidity have caused several fires burning in the Kootenai National Forest to spread, prompting concerns that they may combine, that’s according to fire information officer John Head.

In preparation for possible evacuation in Essex, Larry and Callie Epstein say they packed only what they couldn’t replace into their 12 foot trailer.
Corin Cates-Carney

MTPR reporter Corin Cates-Carney is in Essex. He says the smoke is so thick there that it’s setting off smoke detectors inside some houses.

The fire threatening the Essex area just south of Glacier National Park grew today, and caused the closure of a 7-mile section of U.S. Highway 2 north of Essex, as well as the adjacent BNSF railroad tracks.

Three fires are burning near Noxon, MT, prompting evacuations and filling the air with smoke.
Courtesy Geri Lee

In Sanders County, the evacuation area has been increased for fires burning in the Bull River Valley near Noxon.

Tom Rummel, the Sheriff in Sanders county says the evacuation area now includes Highway 56 between mile marker 2.7 and mile-marker 8, and the East Fork of the Bull River is evacuated starting at 8 mile. Rummel says the expanded evacuation order was issued about 1:30 p.m.

Highway 2 and the BNSF railway have been closed near Essex, MT, between mile markers 178 and 185; Bear Creek to the Halfway Motel. According to the Flathead Office of Emergency Services, the nearby Sheep Fire is sending embers onto the road. The town of Essex has not been ordered to evacuate at this time.

MTPR has a reporter standing by in Essex, stay tuned for more updates as the situation unfolds.

Find more Montana wildfire news here.

A proposed ballot initiative would require electricity suppliers to obtain at least 20 percent of retail sales from renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal or hydroelectric sources by 2020.

Montana officials are reviewing a proposal that aims to put global warming mitigation to a statewide vote in 2016.

John Soderberg today submitted a ballot initiative to curb climate change by reducing the amount of CO2 released when generating electricity.

Billings Crowd Urges Approval Of Montana Medicaid Expansion Waivers

Aug 19, 2015
Tuesday's meeting in Billings on Montana's Medicaid expansion waivers drew about 80 people.
Jackie Yamanaka - Yellowstone Public Radio

Nearly 80 people turned out for a public meeting in Billings Tuesday afternoon on the state of Montana’s proposed waiver request for its Medicaid expansion program.

As Jackie Yamanaka reports, all of the two dozen people who offered comments want the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to approve Montana’s two waivers.

Residents of Essex and surrounding communities are advised to prepare for possible evacuation as the Sheep Fire burns a couple miles south of town.
Jonathan Moor/Inciweb

Some residents near Noxon have been ordered to evacuate due to wildfire, and an evacuation warning is in effect for Essex.

Missoula City-County Health Department

Wildfire smoke was almost bearable in some western Montana communities yesterday, but that's about to change.

The Missoula City-County Health Department says winds that have kept the smoke at bay for the past 24 hours or so are expected to shift to the west today. That could blow lots more smoke to the east.

In other words, there's a massive amount of smoke just over the mountains in Idaho and it's headed into Montana. That means air quality is going to quickly deteriorate. 

MDT: Safer Roads Require Drivers To Reject High-Risk Behavior

Aug 19, 2015
The Vision Zero Initiative Vision Zero Initiative is aimed at preventing traffic accidents and deaths in dense traffic corridors.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2)

Montana transportation officials say they are taking steps to make the state’s highways safer. MDT Director Mike Tooley says there’s a role for motorists to improve highway safety. As Jackie Yamanaka reports, that means drivers need to reject high-risk behavior.

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 18, 2015

Aug 18, 2015
The Bear Creek Fire burning along Spotted Bear River Road, August 14, 2015.

A roundup of the biggest fires burning in western Montana August 18, 2015.

Stage 2 Fire restrictions go into effect across northwestern Montana Thursday at 1:00 a.m.
Josh Burnham

Greater restrictions on burning will go into effect later this week as fire danger increases in Northwest Montana. The Stage 2 fire restrictions will go into effect all across northwest Montana at 1:00 a.m. Thursday.

Gov. Steve Bullock speaks about the benefits of the Montana University System Research Initiative, Tuesday, August 18, 2015 on the UM campus.
Edward O'Brien

Two University of Montana programs will share over $3.5 million in state research funds. UM's traumatic brain injury and water quality monitoring programs are among the first to benefit from the "Montana University System Research Initiative". That's a $15 million program that passed out of the last session of the Montana legislature.

Bozeman software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte Monday filed paperwork to establish an exploratory committee that could lead to running for Governor. An exploratory committee filing allows a candidate to begin raising money to fund a campaign. MTPR News Director Eric Whitney sat down with Gianforte Tuesday for this interview.

Greg Gianforte filed papers today paving the way for a Montana Gubernatorial run.
Rowebotz (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Montana businessman Greg Gianforte Monday filed paperwork to establish an exploratory committee that could lead to running for Governor.   An exploratory committee filing allows a candidate to begin raising money to fund a campaign.

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 17, 2015

Aug 17, 2015
The Marston Fire Lookout on the Kootenai National Forest was wrapped up as a precaution against encroaching flames.

So many wildfires are burning across Montana that Governor Bullock has declared a fire emergency, and the Montana National Guard has been tapped to join the firefighting efforts. Here's a roundup of some of the largest fires burning in western Montana today.

Montana air quality map.
Montana DNRC

Generally hazy and smoky conditions with only temporary relief could be with us for quite some time given all the wildfires burning in Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The state of Montana's air quality meteorologist, Kristen Martin explains what those air quality ratings mean, and how air quality is measured.