MTPR

Montana News

Western Montana news from MTPR. Montana politics, healthcare, wildlands, wildlife, wildfire, and more.

Montana wildfire news

Montana Politics & Legislature news

Montana News podcast

Ways to Connect

1st Montana Democrat Announces Bid Against US Rep. Gianforte

Aug 7, 2017
John Heenan of Billings Monday announced a bid to unseat newly elected U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte in next year's midterm race.
Courtesy

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An attorney on Monday announced a bid to unseat newly elected U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte in next year's midterm race, becoming the first Democrat to establish a campaign committee to take on the Republican who attacked a reporter the day before a special election.

John Heenan of Billings said he would use his experience as a consumer protection lawyer to advocate for Montana residents, including working to increase access to "quality, affordable health care."

Kate Gemar brought flowers to honor the Brent Witham, the California fireighter who died in western Montana last week. Firefighters from across the country this morning escorted Witham’s body from the Garden City Funeral Home to the Missoula airport.
Edward O'Brien

The body of a 29-year-old California firefighter who died in western Montana last week is now back home in California.

Twenty-nine year-old Hotshot Brent Witham of Mentone, California died August 2 after he was hit by a falling tree while fighting the Lolo Peak Fire.

Firefighters from across the country this morning escorted Witham’s body from the Garden City Funeral Home to the Missoula airport.

Inciweb

Here's today's morning air quality update from Missoula City-County Health Department Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield:

Inciweb

Updated 6 p.m.

The Lolo Peak Fire, southwest of Lolo has now scorched 7,084 acres.

Aerial resources, including retardant, are being used to slow the progression of the Lolo Peak Fire into Dick Creek and the South Fork of Lolo Drainage while completing containment lines to the west and north of the fire. Slowing the progression of the fire allows us to be prepared for fire movement in the future that could threaten structures along the Highway 12 corridor.

Inciweb

The 21,573-acre Sapphire Complex is burning roughly 25 miles south/southeast of Missoula in the Rock Creek Drainage. The Granite County Sheriff Friday night issued a YELLOW pre-evacuation warning for the Upper Willow Creek Drainage.

Inciweb

Today's air quality is, again, expected to be less-than-ideal. Buckle up for the long haul, because the smoke is probably going to be with us for quite some time.

Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield's air quality updates are always a good read. Here are her projections for western Montana today:

Bison at the Stephens Creek Capture facility north of Yellowstone Park in 2015.
Jim Peaco (PD)

Yellowstone National Park has decided to convert part of its bison trap into a temporary brucellosis quarantine facility. 

Shane O'Farrell/Inciweb

Fire activity on the more than 7,200 acre Rice Ridge Fire northwest of Seeley Lake increased today as it burns into heavy stands of beetle killed trees.

The evacuation warning is still in effect for residents on both sides of Highway 83 south of Rice Ridge Road to Morrell Creek and south of Cottonwood Lakes Road east of Highway 83, including the town of Seeley Lake and Double Arrow Ranch. No actual evacuations have been ordered.

For a complete list of fire restrictions now in effect across Montana, visit our website https://firerestrictions.us/mt/
firerestrictions.us/mt/

Stage 1 Fire Restrictions are going into effect Saturday for areas of southwestern  Montana.

The new fire restrictions will begin at midnight tonight in Madison, Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Silver Bow Counties. The restrictions will also be set for  Powell County south of I-90 and Highway 12, and Granite County south of I-90 and east of the Lolo National Forest boundary.

A federal appeals court in Helena has blocked the deportation of a Mexican man who recently settled a lawsuit over claims that he was sexually assaulted in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Facility in Jefferson County.

Inciweb

Missoula County Sheriff and Coroner T.J. McDermott released the name of the firefighter who was killed while working on the Lolo Peak Fire yesterday afternoon. The sheriff says 29 year old Brent M. Witham of Mentone, California was killed when a tree was being cut down, and fell on him.

Lolo National Forest Spokeswoman Pat York says exact details of Witham’s death are still unclear.

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

The money set aside to fight wildfires in Montana is rapidly dwindling as portions of the state are in extreme drought conditions. But John Tubbs, Director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, says there’s more money available to keep up the firefighting efforts, in other pockets of state government.

“We don’t run out,” Tubbs says.

An unmaned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone. File photo.
(PD)

The drone pilot allegedly responsible for temporarily shutting down aerial firefighting operations on the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake Wednesday is now the subject of a federal investigation.

The U.S. Forest Service is working in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Justice to determine if charges are warranted.

Man fishing in the Yellowstone River.
Flickr user: Mirrur Image (CC-BY-NC)

Warm water temperatures have triggered fishing restrictions on a 55 mile stretch of the Bitterroot River from Veteran’s Bridge on Highway 93 just north of Hamilton, downstream to the confluence with the Clark Fork in Missoula. The so-called ‘Hoot Owl’ restriction went into effect today.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Missoula-area Fisheries Manager Pat Saffel says those restrictions go into effect when river temperatures reach at least 73 degrees for three days in a row.

Phil Matson collects a water sample from Flathead Lake for use in e-DNA testing for quagga and zebra mussels.
Nicky Ouellet

Wherever you go, you leave behind a tiny trace of yourself, a fingerprint even smaller than a cell that says you were here. Every organism does this, including the invasive quagga and zebra mussels the state is trying to keep out of Montana. This summer, a team of scientists in the Flathead Valley is using cutting-edge technology to detect the mussels’ genetic fingerprints sooner. They say early detection may offer the only hope for eradicating the mussels if they do get here.

Rovero's gas station and hardware store was abuzz with activity Tuesday
Eric Whitney

As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, firefighters were having an easier day on the Rice Ridge Fire than Tuesday. The cold front that moved in overnight moderated temperatures and raised humidity levels. That's according to Mark DeGregorio, a spokesman for the Rice Ridge firefighting team. 

"The fire behavior I think could be characterized as moderate today," DeGregorio said, "certainly more moderate than it was yesterday."

Predicted high winds overnight Tuesday into Wednesday did not materialize in Seeley Lake, but Tuesday was still a pretty scary day, as the entire town was put on an evacuation warning due to the Rice Ridge Fire.

Just months after settling a lawsuit over a sexual assault case, U.S. immigration officials today in Billings detained, and plan to deport, a man who entered the U.S. illegally.

The father of eight moved to Montana 20 years ago, and had no problem with customs – until now.

Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake
Inciweb

A firefighter assigned to the Lolo Peak Fire has died. A little before 4 p.m., the firefighter was struck by a tree and airlifted to a Missoula Hospital.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Wednesday he won’t recommend any changes to the Upper Missouri River Breaks. It’s one of 27 national monuments under review by the secretary, who is now the target of a new ad campaign launched by a Montana-based sportsmen’s group.

Before Fire Season Finishes, Rehab Begins

Aug 2, 2017

The Lodgepole Complex Fire is nearly 100 percent contained, and now work is shifting to rehabilitate the impacted land.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Mark Bostrum distributes money to impacted wildfire areas as the administrator of conservation and resource development.

The GOP leadership in the U.S. Senate may have put the health care issue on the back burner, but it is a campaign issue in Montana’s upcoming U.S. Senate race.

The latest Republican to enter U.S. Senate race has run aggressive statewide political campaigns in the past. So it comes as no surprise he didn’t pull any punches against incumbent U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-MT, right out of the gate during his campaign announcement Monday.

“He was the one that cast the deciding vote that forced Obamacare on each and every person on the state of Montana originally,” said Rosendale. “So that’s sort of like the Arsonist trying to blame the fire department because they’re not doing a good enough job.”

MT Senators Say Work Should Continue On Health Care

Aug 2, 2017

Montana’s two U.S. Senators disagree with the decision to abandon work on health care to focus on other legislative priorities. 

Tuesday’s announcement comes after yet another failure by the Republican majority to scrap the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

Be smart, don't fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire. No amount of video or photos are worth the consequences.
U.S. Forest Service

Aerial firefighting operations on the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake had to be shut down for a few minutes today due to a civilian drone.

This fire season there have already been more than 18 public drone incursions, most of which resulted in the temporary shutdown of aerial firefighting efforts.

A super scooper plane loads up at Seeley Lake on the evening of August 1, while fighting the Rice Ridge Fire visible in the background.
Eric Whitney

Half boat, half plane, the super scooper glides over the water's surface and guzzles up to 1,200 gallons of water in 10 seconds, then drops its load on a fire. A tiny propeller plane flies nearby to give navigation and water deployment tips. Seeley Lake was closed to swimmers, boaters and fisher-people on the evening of August 1 to give this plane space to work as it lapped trips over the Rice Ridge Fire, visible in the background, which has put the nearby community on an evacuation warning.

Northern Rockies IMT

There are multiple evacuation warnings due to fires in northwest Montana, and at least one mandatory evacuation order in effect.

About 4:00 this afternoon the Missoula County Sheriff’s office issued an evacuation warning due to the Lolo Peak Fire.

Flathead Lake near Polson, MT.
P.J. Johnson (CC-BY-ND-2)

Boaters in the Flathead Basin may see some significant changes next season. A new set of regulations aimed at preventing the spread of invasive mussels next year are now being drafted.

The proposed regulations would require all boats to be inspected before they launch, set up a sticker for boats that only launch in Flathead and Swan Lakes, and establish annual fees to fund the program.

Auditor Matt Rosendale Enters 2018 Race for U.S. Senate

Aug 1, 2017

State Auditor Matt Rosendale is the most prominent Republican to enter the race to challenge U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-MT, in 2018.

Rosendale, a former state legislator from Glendive, was elected last November to be Montana’s state Insurance and Securities Commissioner.

“I have always said I will serve where Montanans feel I can be the most effective,” he says.

As the most severe drought in the nation continues to pummel ranchers and farmers in northeastern Montana, the National Weather Service says it isn’t ending anytime soon. 

Josh Burnham

Fire teams across Montana today prepared for an unusual cold front that could stir up Montana's wildfires.

National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless says this weather system is typically called a "backdoor" cold front. Cold fronts typically enter Montana from the northwest.

This map shows spending on health care services via Medicaid expansion by county since January, 2016
Montana DPHHS

A new report says that Medicaid expansion has saved Montana more than $30 million in its first 18 months.

"Medicaid expansion continues to be a stunning success for Montana," said Shiela Hogan, director of Montana's Department of Health and Human Services. "There's no denying this."

Pages