Lightning Starts Several Small Fires Between Kalispell And Libby

Jul 9, 2017

This post will be updated as new information becomes available.

UPDATE 530 PM: Montana DNRC reports that the Rogers Mountain fire is "making a run," that winds are pushing it south and east toward Happy's Inn. The Lincoln County Sheriff's office says the sheriff is headed to the area now to assess whether a pre-evacuation notice should be issued. 

DNRC says that single engine air tankers are attacking the Rogers Mountain fire, and that a heavy air tanker has been ordered. 

UPDATE: 3:55 PM: 

Janette Turk with the Flathead National Forest says several crews and three helicopters are attacking an 8 acre fire in the North Fork area on the Hungry Horse-Glacier View ranger district.

It’s believed the fire was started by lightning Friday night. A US Forest Service crew from Alaska that was pre-positioned in Missoula is among those responding.

Turk says Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and conservation has ordered a type 2 management team to help out with the three fires that agency has been responding to north of Plains and in the Libby area.

In addition to those fires (see details below), the Kootenai Interagency Dispatch Center has, since Saturday, responded to eight fires or reports of smoke of less than an acre each, as of 3:37 pm today.

The latest update on the July Fire near Zortman says:

"The community and structure protection efforts of the fire management team have been very successful. No homes were destroyed by the fire but a total of five outbuilding or sheds were damaged. The successful fire suppression operations were made possible by the pre-fire season work that was done by the community residents. The fuels mitigation work that was done, as well as the fire-wise residences, provided safer working conditions that allowed firefighters to protect structures and aggressively suppress the fire.

Weather is expected to continue with a hot and dry pattern and no chance of rain. A possible wind shift out of the southeast could lead to increased fire behavior and push towards the northwest perimeter. Aerial resources, hand crews, and heavy equipment resources will continue to focus on community and structure protection. Firefighter efforts will focus on completing structure protection action in Zortman, patrol and mop up in Landusky, and increase contingency lines north of the fire. The contingency line is being created as an additional protection measure between the fire and the towns of Lodgepole and Hays. The objective is to contain the fire on the northwest flank within upper Mill Gulch and Alder Gulch, limiting fire effects to Landusky Mine site and Ft. Belknap Reservation."

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s Facebook page yesterday reported a fire on the reservation at 1,900 acres.

UPDATE 12:10 PM: The July fire near Zortman is now being called 45% contained. The BLM is urging people to stay out of the area, and a temporary flight restriction has been expanded to 10 miles from the center of the fire. The latest update from the July fire management team is available here.

CORRECTION: Lazier Creek was misspelled in prior post

UPDATE: 11:10 AM:

Ali Ulwelling with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says the largest of the fires she's aware of and that DNRC is responding to is near Plains, the 80 acre Lazier Creek fire.

Near Libby the DNRC is responding to the 40 acre Rodgers Mountain and 11 acre Grub Mountain fires.

“There are also numerous half-acre, one-and-a-half acre, 5 acre fires,” Ulwelling says. “We've seen 16 (on state land alone) in last 48 hours. Most are lightning caused, but still getting human caused fires; from bonfires, there have been several started by fireworks and equipment.”

Ulwelling says just a couple of the new fires are on “patrol status,” meaning the agency is monitoring them, “most are at various levels of containment,” she says. Ulwelling says DNRC is in the process of setting up an incident management team in Northwest Montana, and is coordinating with the Flathead and Kootenai National Forests and local fire agencies. She says a variety of local, state and federal agencies are responding, and looking for new fires.

“We think there are probably some holdovers we haven't found yet from Friday's lightning,” Ulwelling says.

Ulwelling emphasized that fire danger is very high, given the hot, dry weather. “Fuels are very receptive to new starts,” she says.

10:50 AM:

Thunderstorms on Friday afternoon resulted in several new lightning fires actively burning between Kalispell and Libby.

Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says firefighting resources, including engines and helicopters, are stretched thin at this time but are working hard to contain the new starts.

Interagency fire managers are asking the public to be aware of dry brush and grass, the hotter than average weather forecasted for the next week, and the real potential for wildfires to grow quickly. Many people still recall the deep snow of last winter and the heavy rains of this past spring, but summer wildfire season is most definitely here, weeks earlier than normal.

Below average rainfall, wind, and warm weather in June resulted in dry forest fuels and more fires than average in June and the first week of July.

The DNRC says, "each year about 80% of wildfires in the Flathead area are human-caused. Please do your part to prevent fires this summer: · Never leave your campfire unattended. Have a bucket of water and a shovel on hand and make sure your campfire is cold to the touch before leaving.· If pulling a boat or camper trailer, adjust chains so that they are not touching the ground. Dragging chains produce sparks that may ignite grassfires along roadsides.· Avoid driving or parking hot vehicles in dry grass.· And last, just a reminder that NO debris burning is allowed during the months of July, August, and September due to fire season. Typically, escaped and illegal debris burns are one of the top causes of wildfires in the Flathead area. For more information about preparing your home and property for wildfire, check