Firefighters are feeling a lot better today about the 720-acre Mill Creek fire that broke out yesterday between Frenchtown and Missoula.
A heavy initial air and ground attack yesterday saved several homes, and today all evacuation orders were lifted. The fire is about 30 percent contained, and crews are working to build more line on the fire's northern flank, in anticipation of stronger winds tomorrow. About 175 people are working the fire, including a crew from the state prison.
The fire was started by a spark from a lawnmower hitting a rock, as a young man was trying to mow some tall weeds behind a residence above Mill Creek road. Information officer Forrest Merrill says the spark ignited the very dry grass - and took off. The fire spread north and east, within a hundred yards of several homes off Bunchgrass road, before air tankers dropping retardant stopped it. A radio tower was spared, though the fence around it was burned. The fire has also burned into an area burned previously by the Black Cat fire, and that also helped slow its spread.
Chris Johnson is the fire prevention officer for the Lolo National forest. He says of the 60 fires that have started so far this year on the Lolo forest, 56 have been human-caused, mostly from clearing debris, or escaped campfires. Stage One fire restrictions are due to go into effect August first. Officials warn fire season is really just getting started.