Eric Whitney

News Director

Eric is the news director for Montana Public Radio.

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Eric Whitney

The U.S. Forest Service team leading the attack on the West Fork Fish Creek Fire southwest of Alberton had a public information meeting in Alberton last night, and more than 200 people came. So many people came, they had to open the big garage doors at the fire station to accommodate the crowd.


The following information is from the federal government's InciWeb wesite, full post is here.

Eric Whitney

The following information was posted to at 8:55 a.m. Sunday, August 30 to the federal government's InciWeb site.

An evacuation notice has been issued for fewer than 20 residents of Lower Granite Lake Road, Granite Creek Road, Willow Road, Prospect Creek Road, Winchester Drive and Granite Lake Road. Officials ask all residents to be out of their homes by 1:00 p.m. today, August 29, 2015.

Eric Whitney

About a hundred people came to Missoula’s Har Shalom synagogue this morning to be part of a protest against a new shipping terminal on the coast of Washington. Opponents say the terminal will cause environmental problems.

Gov. Bullock is hopeful upcoming talks will help clear the way to allowing Montana DNRC helicopters to work fires on federal lands.

It looks like there may be progress in the dispute between Montana and the U.S. Forest Service over firefighting helicopters.

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.


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.

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:

 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Courtesy Photo

NOTE: This post has been edited on 8/19 to clarify information about disenrollment from Medicaid related to not engaging in work or job training programs. 

Montana is holding public meetings this week to get input on its Medicaid expansion plans.

As the state prepares to ask the federal government to accept its version of Medicaid expansion, one critic of the proposal wants to make sure the state is telling the whole story.

A night-time view of the Soda Fire 40 miles SW of Boise, ID.

Even more fires have broken out across the border in the Panhandle National Forest in Idaho. Jason Kirschner, public information officer for the Panhandle in Couer d’Alene, talks about the nearly 50 fires burning in Idaho.

22 new fires have started in the Flathead National Forest Since August 11, 2015.
Josh Burnham

Since August 11, there have been 22 new fire starts in the Flathead National Forest. At present there are no road or trail closures and no structures are threatened. Of the 22 fires, four are declared out.

The largest fires are the Addition Creek, Late Creek and Bear Creek fires - currently at 135 acres on the Spotted Bear Ranger District.

An autopsy has confirmed that a grizzly bear was responsible for the death of a hiker in Yellowstone National Park late last week. And, a second bear cub related to the incident has now been captured.

A photo of the Thompson Creek Fire taken around 3:00 p.m. from Hwy 49, aka Looking Glass Road out of East Glacier.
Courtesy Tony Bynum Photography

People from Kalispell to East Glacier are reporting a huge smoke plume this afternoon from the Thompson Creek fire inside Glacier National Park.

The fire was first reported Sunday, and quickly grew to 1,900 acres. Now, the Park Service is saying the Thompson Fire has nearly tripled in size to an estimated 5,500 acres.

Jim Peaco, via YNP

Yellowstone National Park has identified the hiker who is believed to have been killed by a grizzly bear late last week. Park Superintendent Dan Wenk says he was from Billings.

"Lance Crosby was an employee of Medcor, our concession facility that provides medical services here in the park.  (He was) 63 years old, had been in the park with Medcor for approximately 5 years" Wenk said.

Eric Whitney

Yellowstone National Park's response to the death of Montana man while hiking in the park late last week is drawing criticism.

An investigation is currently underway to determine the cause of death of a Montana hiker found in the park Friday.
Flickr user lance_mountain (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Yellowstone National Park says An investigation is currently underway to determine the cause of death of a Montana hiker found in the park Friday.

Tourists at the Apgar Visitor Center
GlacierNPS (CC-BY-2)

Fire managers in Glacier National Park say the fire burning there neither grew yesterday, nor did the amount of fire line constructed around it. The fire remains estimated at just under 4,000 acres in size and 67 percent contained.

Showing activity in the Rose Creek Drainage on the Reynolds Creek Fire.
Courtesy Inciweb

Fire managers in Glacier National Park are now feeling more confident in perimeter fire lines, allowing them to shift crews to removing hazards near Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The Park Service today said, "there is an expectation [Going-to-the-Sun Road] will reopen sometime during this summer season."

Critics of the Clean Power Plan worry about its impacts on coal development and jobs.

News reports are saying that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan has set new targets for Montana that are twice as large as those floated last year in a draft of the plan. But the head of Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality, Tom Livers, says it’s still unclear to him what exactly the new thresholds are.

The plan the White House unveiled today to reduce carbon dioxide emissions nationwide is meeting with strong and broad criticism in Montana.

Gov. Steve Bullock said he's "disappointed" by President Obama's Clean Power Plan.
Christopher B. Allen

Governor Steve Bullock issued the following statement on the Clean Power Plan President Obama announced today:

Pockets of unburned fuel in the interior of the Reynolds Creek fire burned actively Friday, July 31.

It’s been an active day on the fire burning on the east side of Glacier National Park. There’s been significant smoke in the area this afternoon. Fire information officer Shauna Hartman explains why.

Bryce Ward, the director of health care research at the University of Montana’s BBER, talks with Eric Whitney about the impact Medicaid & Medicare have on Montana.
Emily Proctor

Today is the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid. Right now, nearly one in five Montanans gets health care from Medicare, and the state is poised to expand Medicaid to tens of thousands more people next year.

To get a sense of how important the two federal health programs are to Montana, and some idea of where they’re going in the future, I talked to Bryce Ward, the director of health care research at the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Kathy Schaefer, regional director of women's health for Providence shows one of the new labor and delivery rooms at St. Patrick hospital in Missoula.
Eric Whitney

Missoula’s St. Patrick hospital invited the media to see its new family maternity center that opens Monday. Women’s Health Director Kathy Schaefer showed off one of the hospital’s seven rooms where moms will deliver babies.