Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 4, 2017

Aug 4, 2017

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.

“We had a pretty thick smoke inversion that broke off the back quarter til one this afternoon. And as the inversion broke, temperatures began rising and fire activity started to pick up,” says Mark De Gregorio, a public information officer with the fire.

Map of the Rice Ridge fire as of the afternoon of August 3, 2017.
Credit Inciweb

De Gregorio said Super Scoopers - amphibious firefighting aircraft that literally scoop up water to drop on nearby fires - would be returning this afternoon to provide aerial support.

Crews continue to build and improve control lines on the south end of the fire while also installing hose lays and provide structure protection for homes and other buildings near Seeley Lake.

De Gregorio said a cold front coming in could trigger gusty conditions that may increase fire activity tomorrow.

"Looking out from the fire from where I am, right now, it still seems like it’s overcast, but it’s actually the smoke that’s making it seem that way. Lower visibility than I would say this time yesterday afternoon."

Air quality near Seeley Lake area and along the I-90 corridor in Mineral County was listed as “Hazardous” this morning. That means everyone – no matter how healthy – is advised to stay indoors and avoid exertion outside.

But air quality isn’t an issue just for residents in Mineral County.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued an air quality alert for Granite, Lake, Mineral, Missoula, Powell, and Ravalli counties due to the numerous fires burning in west-central Montana.

Some improvement is expected on Saturday for parts of Powell and Granite counties, and the department will update their alerts Saturday morning.

Elsewhere across the state, air quality remains moderate with hazy skies in most locations.

The Sunrise Fire between Alberton and Superior has grown to almost 12,500 acres. Despite continued growth, the fire is now 10 percent contained, up five percent over past few days.

The Mineral County Sheriff lifted evacuation orders for residents yesterday in the Quartz Flats and Sunrise Creek and for residents in the Verde Creek area not along Road 450. These residents can return home but should be prepared to leave again quickly if conditions worsen.

Residents on Road 450 in Verde Creek, as well as homes in Quartz Creek remain under evacuation orders.  Residents in the Rivulet area under a stage one evacuation alert.

Meg Nemitz, a public information officer for the Sunrise Fire, says heavy winds today from the south east will not improve smoky conditions in areas around the fire.

“I think today we’ll see one of the busiest fire days within the next few days just because of the kinds of winds we have.  So once the smoke clears, folks can expect to see some more smoke go up.”

Fire managers will host a public meeting Saturday at 7 p.m. at the the Lozeau Lodge Pavilion to discuss the latest fire updates with residents.

Firefighters on the Liberty Fire southeast of Arlee continued to build containment lines today on the fire's eastern edge. No evacuation orders are in effect at this time.  The Liberty Fire will have community meeting at Saturday at the Potomac Community Center.

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.

The restrictions prohibit campfires, except for exempted areas, and smoking except in an enclosed vehicle or building, or in an area cleared of all flammable materials.

Leona Rodreick with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest says Montana’s fire season is two or three weeks ahead of usual conditions.

“We’re seeing conditions now that we usually see in the middle or end of August. It’s hotter. It’s dryer. Having a lot of our resources out working fires, we want people to be extra careful.”

At midnight Stage 1 Fire Restrictions will also be put in place for the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

Most of the state north of Butte and west of Helena is already on more stringent Stage 2 Restrictions. For a complete list of fire restrictions now in effect across Montana, visit

Update 1:15 p.m.

Fire behavior on the 7,235-acre Rice Ridge Fire northwest of Seeley Lake is expected to be very active today as it burns into heavy stands of beetle killed trees.

The smoke being produced there is remarkable. Missoula City/County Health Department Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield put it this way in her morning report today: “The smoke in Seeley Lake is thick enough this morning that our monitor thought it was seeing errors for a couple hours.”

Sadly, it was not an error. Air quality there this morning is listed as “Hazardous”. That means everyone – no matter how healthy – is advised to stay indoors and avoid exertion outside. Once the sun breaks through the clouds and the inversion lifts, Coefield predicts conditions will improve. Until then listen to your body and take it easy.

Back to the Rice Ridge Fire: Steve Goldman's Type II incident management team took command yesterday.

Today’s forecast is for continued hot and dry conditions, with temperatures in the mid to upper 80s and minimum relative humidity 18-24 percent. Light and variable winds before noon will give way to upslope winds in the afternoon at 8-12 mph Gusting up to 24 mph. The outlook through the weekend is continued hot and dry conditions

Favorable weather conditions yesterday afternoon allowed for a heavy air tanker presence on the south end of the fire for the third day in a row. Crews were also able to construct direct handline in some areas to check spread of the fire on the south side.

The evacuation warning issued to 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 is still in effect. No actual evacuations have been ordered. 

Updated 11:00 a.m.

A change of command at the Lolo Peak Fire today; Noel Livingston’s Pacific Northwest Type 1 team assumes management at 6 p.m. Type 1 teams are assigned to some of the nation’s most complex wildfires.

The Lolo Peak has scorched 6,875 acres approximately 10 miles southwest of Lolo. Smoke shaded the fire Thursday, moderating fire activity.

Today, the air should clear resulting in very active fire. Predicted fire movement remains in a north to northeast direction. Some southerly spread within the South Fork Lolo Creek drainage is also expected. There will be light northwest winds in the morning, increasing throughout the day with gusts to 20 mph in the afternoon over the ridge tops. Saturday winds are forecast to be northeasterly with gusts to 20 mph. Temperatures will remain in the 80’s with relative humidity in the 20 percent range.

Retardant will continue to be used to limit the fire’s spread to the west into the Johnny Creek drainage and north into Dick Creek. Aerial ignition will be evaluated for use in the South Fork Lolo Creek to limit southern spread and keep the fire west of the Bitterroot divide. Crews are making excellent progress with line construction as they work south toward Brooks Creek. Alternate lines are still being identified and constructed. Excavators, wood chippers, and dump trucks will work removing slash piles next to the control lines. Work will continue along the Elk Meadows Road preparing it for use as a primary control line.

An Evacuation Warning remains in place for the area south of Highway 12 from Fort Fizzle west to the intersection with the Elk Meadows road; this includes the Mill Creek area. Highway 12 remains open. Do not stop along the road to view fire activity because it creates a traffic hazard.

12-percent of the 3,652-acre Liberty Fire southeast of Arlee is now contained. Fire crews today will continue to build containment line on the fires east perimeter along the Boles Meadow burn scar using the existing road system. The priority is to hold the fire at the 2003 Boles Meadow burn scar and continue to improve primary containment lines and build new contingency lines. Crews may use strategic firing operations to remove unburned fuels between the containment lines and the main fire as conditions allow. New containment lines are being constructed using existing roads on the fires north flank to keep the fire south of Liberty Creek. Containment lines on the north and west flank will be improved and additional contingency lines well be constructed as resources become available.

Temperatures will be in the low 80’s with light northwest winds expected over the next two days. Low relative humidity and dry fuels will continue to challenge firefighters. Northwest winds are expected to push the fire to the south and southeast today in Gold Creek drainage. The fire may become active in drainages where upslope winds align with heavy fuels. Firefighters are challenged by extreme burning conditions, heavy forest fuels and limited access in steep rough terrain. Fire activity can be expected to increase by early afternoon and smoke will impact communities to the east of the fire area.

No evacuation orders are in effect at this time. The Missoula County Sheriff Department’s Evacuation Warning for the community of Placid Lake remains in effect. This warning will be removed once eastern primary and contingency lines currently under construction are secured.

The Sapphire Complex of fires 25 miles east of Missoula in the Rock Creek drainage has burned a combined 17,498-acres, with 15-percent containment.

The largest of the three fires that make up that complex, the Little Hogback, has burned 9,110-acres. Fire resources constructed indirect line to the east utilizing heavy equipment and handcrews. On the southwest portion of the fire, crews made good progress with burning operations to begin tying fireline into rock scree. Firefighters will continue to prep structures and provide protection in the Red and Yellow evacuation zones today. The heavy equipment taskforce continues to establish indirect line on the east side of fire by improving road systems.

The 7,563-acre Goat Creek Fire is estimated to be 45-percent contained. Firefighters continued patrol and mop up along Rock Creek Road. Crews patrolled and monitored the area around structures along Brewster Creek. Aerial resources provided assistance in holding line on the fire’s east edge. Fire resources established direct line tying into roads on the northwest side of the fire. Today, crews will continue to hold the line along Brewster Creek and the north side of the fire. Indirect fireline will continue to be constructed on the east side.

20-percent containment reported on the smallest blaze in that complex, the 825-acre Sliderock Fire. Fire resources secured firelines on the south and east edges of the fire as well as continued to build fireline to existing trails. Aircraft provided support to ground resources with aerial delivery of retardant. Fire resources will continue to hold the line today with assistance from aerial resources.

For the Sapphire Complex, the Granite County Sheriff has issued the following evacuation orders: Red evacuation order (mandatory evacuation) from Hogback Homestead south to Stony Creek and the Sliderock Mountain area; Yellow evacuation orders (pre-evacuation) for the northern portion of Rock Creek drainage from approximately Babcock Creek south to Bobcat Creek, from Butte Cabin south to Hogback Homestead, and from Stony Creek south to the Kyle G. Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge.

Updated 1:23 p.m.

Another busy day is expected on the Sunrise Fire southeast of Superior. It’s now estimated at 12,300 acres and 5-percent containment. Active fire behavior is predicted for today because of shifting winds over the fire.

A Stage 3 evacuation order remains for Verde Creek residents along Road 450 and for residents in Quartz Creek. Residents in Quartz Flats and Sunrise are now in Stage 2 Evacuation and may return to their homes. We caution all residents in the area to remain vigilant as conditions can change quickly. Area closures remain around the Sunrise Fire incident from Trout Creek south to FS road #341. All roads contained within this boundary are closed. Superior and Frenchtown Rural Fire Departments provided engines to patrol the north side of the river for new fire starts.

Quartz Flat Campground will remain closed to the public during firefighting operations until further notice.
The closure is to ensure a safe exit route for the residents of Quartz Flats, Sunrise, and firefighters working in the area.

In the wake of bizarre reports of people issuing fake evacuation warnings, officials offer this reminder; only uniformed law enforcement officers or fire officials will ever ask you to evacuate. Please direct any questions or concerns to the Mineral County Sheriff's office at: 406-822-3555.

The 11,882-acre Meyers Fire continues its burn southwest of Philipsburg. The Whetstone Ridge and Meyers fires grew together on Tuesday, August 1, 2017, and are now designated as the Meyers Fire. The current acreage is 12,120 acres.

Firefighter, aviation, and public safety are the number one priority. With that in mind, much of the fire line being constructed is not directly adjacent to the fire (indirect line). The is why the containment has not risen at this point. Indirect line provides for significantly increased firefighter safety and efficiency and fire break effectiveness. Although most of the constructed line is indirect at this point, the incident objectives, as directed by the local agency administrators, are being met. Structure protection efforts in the Moose Lake area includes a large contingent of engines that will monitor fire progress in case it should move toward the area. They will also support other nearby fire operations and be available for initial attack should new fires develop. Crews also continue to construct and improve lines to the north and east of the fire. Crews will utilize timber management equipment to improve the value of Moose Lake road #5106. The six acre Old Dominion fire located east of Moose Lake, is staffed and firefighters are locating and mopping up hotspots.

The current Fire Danger is VERY HIGH. Recreationists are reminded to use caution with any outdoor activity that may cause a spark. Never leave campfires unattended. Pour water and add dirt to your campfire until your campfire is cold. Remember: If it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave. Philipsburg and the surrounding area residents might see a little more smoke today with the warmer and drier day. Expect north northwest winds but generally patchy smoke in the morning and a mostly sunny afternoon. A cooler day is expected Saturday. The Granite County Sheriff issued EVACUTION notices for the FROG POND BASIN, COPPER CREEK CAMPGROUND, AND MOOSE LAKE areas. Granite County has implemented Stage II Fire restrictions for private lands within Granite County.

This reminder from the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services: “Fire Danger in most of western Montana is Extreme. Northwest Montana continues to experience critical fire conditions including extremely dry forest fuels; continued forecasting of temperatures above normal accompanied by low humidity, wind, and minimal precipitation. Indices are measuring at historic levels. Conditions have prompted the City of Columbia Falls to also enact the Stage II Restrictions, while the City of Whitefish has issued an advisory and will likely go in to Stage II Restrictions soon. The Kootenai National Forest is in Stage 2 Restrictions as of Friday, August 4 and the Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wilderness are now in Stage 1 Restrictions.

The intent of Fire Restrictions is to reduce the number of human-caused fires during periods of extreme fire danger by decreasing potential sources of ignition. Each year, 70 to 80% of wildfires are human-caused and this summer the trend has continued. Campfires are NOT ALLOWED anywhere during Stage II Fire Restrictions."