Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 30, 2017

Aug 30, 2017

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag warning for dangerous fire weather conditions at 1:00 this afternoon across much of Montana until nine tomorrow evening. It stretches from as far west as Kalispell, and far east as Miles City.

Missoula Forecast Office Meteorologist Jeff Kitsmiller says although there are some expected thunderstorms, there isn’t a lot of moisture in the area.

“Tomorrow we have a cold front that’ll come through, so it’ll be pretty breezy. And that wind, and still relatively low on the RH — the relative humidity — causes all the fires to grow, so we’re pretty worried about that.”

The National Weather Service says potential winds up to 50 mph combined with lightning and thunderstorms projected for this evening caused the initial concern.

Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake

Because of rapidly changing fire activity approximately 90 additional residences are being put on an evacuation warning as of 4:30 p.m.

This current warning area includes both sides of Highway 83 N. from Tamarack Resort to Bear Grass, extending to Bear Grass Ln, Loon Lane and Camp Creek. Also under an evacuation warning are residents on both the north and south sides of Boy Scout Rd. to the Fawn Creek intersection.

These residents should prepare for a short order evacuation. Start planning and consider signing up for Smart911.

If you plan to self evacuate please stop at the checkpoint set up between Cory's Valley Market and the Wilderness Gateway Inn in Seeley Lake. This area is staffed between 8 a.m. -8 p.m. If you are out of the area please call 1(406)396-1386 or fill out the online form by clicking here.

The Rice Ridge fire burning about a mile and a half northeast of Seeley Lake forced more than a thousand evacuations earlier this week and firefighters continue working to build containment lines to protect homes and businesses on the western edge of the fire near town. MTPR's Corin Cates-Carney is in Seeley Lake.

Eric Whitney: Corin what’s the scene like in Seeley today?

Corin Cates-Carney: Today was expected to be a tough day for crews with a red flag weather warning coming into the fire area this afternoon. When I checked in with the John Thompson, the fire incident commander, earlier this afternoon, he said fire activity was calm most of the morning but that could change this afternoon. He told me a priority today was to sure up and retake some of the northwestern perimeter of the fire, which is northeast of Seeley Lake.\

"We’re doing everything we can to get that west side captured," Thompson says. "We know that the evacuations are having an impact on everybody. We’re doing everything we can to get life back to normal in Seeley lake. And that is the thing at the forefront of our minds, right now, beyond public safety, is getting life back to normal back in Seeley Lake."

CCC: On Monday, the fire pushed passed some of those containment lines. That same day many of the evacuations were ordered. But Thompson told me this afternoon that crews were hoping to retake those fire lines in the next shift or two.

EW: How’s the fire expected to behave this evening?

CCC: The red flag weather warning that started early this afternoon will continue until tomorrow night. Thompson says thunderstorms  coming in from the west and north are expected to start picking up this afternoon and evening, which are difficult to prepare for.

"One of the challenges of a thunderstorm over the fire is the unpredictability of the winds that are going to accrue," Thompson says. "If it’s a frontal passage or something like that the winds are generally more steady in a direction where with a thunderstorm you can get wind any direction. It’s really hard set up an operation when the wind is spinning 360 degrees over the course of 10, 15 minutes."

CCC: Tonight, after the  thunderstorms roll through, a cold front is expected to come over the fire area and winds are going to pick up. Those winds are going to last for about 18 hours.Thompson says whether that weather helps or hurt the firefighting effort, depends on the way the winds blow.

The meteorologist on staff says that because of the size of the fire it’s unlikely a thunderstorm could span the entire fire area and  but where it does pop up is unpredictable.Thompson says this evening they’re keeping close watch on the northwest area of the fire and the southeast corner.

EW: Are crews facing any other difficulties other than the weather?

CCC: Thompson told me that the smoke is really becoming an issue,  especially for their planes and helicopters. It’s keeping firefighters in the air from at times seeing where exactly the fire is, when they’re trying to dump water. And Thompson told me that they weren’t able to send up a helicopter crew until about noon today because it was so smokey they couldn’t see where they were flying.

EW: Any change with evacuation status?

CCC: Not as of this afternoon. Although fire officials review the evacuation status throughout the day and evening.

A community meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Community Center in here in Seeley Lake.

The Rice Ridge fire has been burning since July 24, and now over 32 thousand acres. It’s 18 percent contained.

Alice Creek Fire near Augusta

The Alice Creek fire has moved to within a mile of homes outside Augusta. In the last two days, winds have been driving the now 6,000-acre fire, and it’s southeastern flank is now burning close to the Elk Meadows subdivision and has reached the bottom of South Green Creek.

Fire Information Officer Mary Fritz says while a lot of the terrain is steep and inaccessible, ground crews are doing their best to protect structures, and none have been damaged so far.

"We have a couple of dozers working out there and we’re trying to tie off that lower southeast section, which is near subdivisions down lower in the drainage. So we’ve been working with some dozers in there, hand lines in there, trying to secure the line to a road."

On the northern flank, teams have been using air resources like air tankers and helicopters to try to control high fire activity today.

Glacier National Park

Smoke from wildfires has led Xanterra Parks and Resorts to close Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park for the season. The lodge on the shore of Lake McDonald closed Wednesday, nearly a month ahead of schedule. Xanterra says the Sprague fire burning in the park was not threatening the lodge, but heavy smoke was settling in the area, at times creating hazardous air quality conditions.

Those with reservations will receive a full refund.

The lightning-caused Sprague Fire also forced the closure of a backcountry chalet earlier this month. The fire was not threatening Sperry Chalet, but it was burning near a trail used to access the chalet. It was closed for the season in mid-August.

Lolo Peak Fire near Lolo

Effective at 5:30 p.m. the evacuation warning status has been lifted in the following areas effected by the Lolo Peak Fire: All residents living in the U.S. Hwy 12 corridor from mile marker 24 east (near and including Arena Drive) to Hwy 93 S. in Lolo. As well as all residents along Hwy 93 South from mile marker 79 ( near and including the gravel pit off old Hwy 93 and McClain Creek Rd.) north to US Hwy 12.