Montana Wildfire Roundup for August 7, 2017

Aug 7, 2017

Managers of the Sunrise fire east of Superior this morning were worried about it throwing spot fires over Interstate 90 and the Clark Fork River.

According to fire team spokesperson Kimberly Nelson, “If there was spotting, the crews caught it because a report never made it back to us, which tells us that it must have been real minor spotting if there was spotting.”

Nelson said crews had a successful day using burnout operations to direct the main fire away from communities.

“Things are looking good up there. It’s [the burnout] doing exactly what we want it to do, and we’re watching it real closely.”

At more than 13,000 acres, the Sunrise is one of the largest wildfires burning in Montana.

People living in the Quartz Creek and Verde Creek areas remain evacuated, but Nelson says that so far, fire management teams have kept their homes safe.

Crews on the ground are still expecting some weather this week, with possible lightning storms coming in.

On the Meyers Fire, the Montana National Guard has been activated to fight a fire in Montana for the first time this year.

A Chinook helicopter and its team of 15 were deployed  to combat the Meyers fire, 25 miles south of Philipsburg in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. 

Brian Scott is a public information officer working on the 13,000 acre blaze.

“We’re going to be able to utilize one of the helicopters from the National Guard and that will be nice for us not only in terms of helping put water in spots that are hotter than we’d like, but also, it will give them some additional training.”

Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency last month in response to extreme fire activity in the state. This authorized him to mobilize the National Guard and tap state emergency funds.

Montana is struggling to keep up with its firefighting costs. It’s spending an estimated  $1 million to $1.5 million a day on fire related expenses.

Hundreds of firefighters from across the country attended a ceremony at a Missoula’s airport this morning, during which the body of 29-year-old California Hot Shot Brent Witham was loaded onto a US Forest Service Sherpa plane to be returned to California. Witham died on August second when he was struck by a falling tree while fighting the Lolo Peak Fire west of Missoula. A procession followed Witham's body from the funeral home to the Missoula Aerial Fire Depot.

Updated 2:00 p.m.

On the Sunrise Fire between Alberton and Superior, fire managers say, "continued fire growth to the north and south will threaten structures. Long range spotting has the potential to cross the Clark Fork River and I-90 impacting traffic, the Montana Rail Link rail line, transmission lines and additional structures. Burnouts along control lines will be necessary to direct the main fire front away from communities. Continued fire perimeter growth is expected along uncontrolled fire edges."

The Meyers Fire: 13,097-acres and 4-percent containment. 

The public is invited to a community meeting tonight, Monday, August 7 at 7:00 pm at the Georgetown Lake Fire Station #1, 100 Fire Lane, off of Southern Cross Rd. Fire personnel from the Meyers Fire incident management team and the Georgetown Fire Chief will be presenting information about current fire updates and potential future outlooks.

Located 25 miles southwest of Philipsburg, the Meyers Fire showed some increased activity on Sunday afternoon. Stable conditions combined with drift smoke reduced the fire behavior in the morning while afternoon clearing allowed an increased level of activity. Smoke will persist from other fires in the region as well as Canada.

Today’s plan is to implement structure protection measures at Moose Lake and utilize aviation for Frog Pond and Senate Mine. Scout fuel breaks and utilize heavy equipment to implement control lines. Implement a direct suppression strategy where it is the most viable option, taking advantage of favorable conditions. Tomorrow's focus will continue to widen fuel breaks north and east side of fire.

The Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake now clocks in at 7,986-acres and 10-percent containment.

Last night’s community meeting was attended by approximately 250 people. It can be viewed as a video on the Lolo National Forest Facebook page for those who missed it. The next public meeting will be held on Thursday, August 9 at 6pm at the Seeley Lake Elementary School.

The waters of Seeley Lake remain closed, but all businesses in town are open.

Sunday’s moderate weather provided for low fire activity for the majority of the day. Fire crews on the west side of the fire improved fire line, installed additional hose lays and sprinklers and scouted new lines parallel to Highway 83 yesterday. On the southeast side of the fire crews started to build control line to the east along Cottonwood Lake Road. Crews were challenged by thick vegetation and terrain while building control lone along the FS 4353 Road on the southwest side of the fire. Scooper planes worked hot areas on the north side of the fire in the later afternoon. Helicopters worked the south end of the fire.

Crews are continuing structure protection preparation and assessments in Seeley Lake along the MT-83 and Cottonwood Canyon. The evacuation warning issued to residents is still in effect 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.

Updated 11:20 a.m.

The Lolo Peak Fire burning about ten miles southwest of Lolo is now mapped at 7,292-aces.

Weather and fire behavior: Warmer and drier today and, after the smoke lifts, parts of the Lolo Peak Fire could become a bit more active. That activity is expected on the fire’s northern edge, mainly in Cedar Creek and the South Fork of Lolo Creek. Some single tree, and group torching may occur.

Today: “We’re going to start managing how this fire comes down the hill” Incident Commander Noel Livingston told fire fighters at this morning’s 6 a.m. briefing. There are three parts to the strategy. “We will allow the fire to grow naturally in some areas, and we’ll continue to check it, using helicopters and retardant, in areas of concern,” Livingston said. The third part will be a very intentional process to put a limited amount fire in unburned areas, in order to lessen the chances for high intensity fire behavior later. Manmade fire will be used when conditions are favorable, to produce low-intensity burns. These burns lessen overall intensity by robbing the approaching fire of fuel.

Firefighters also observed a moment of silence at today’s briefing to remember Brent Witham, a Vista Grande Hotshot who was killed on this fire five days ago. Witham’s body is being returned to his home in California today.

Crews will also extend a primary containment line a short distance into Idaho in order to protect parts of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Lolo Peak fire fighters are ready to assist the local forests and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation with extinguishing new fire starts around and within the Lolo Peak Fire area of operations.

Fire danger remains high and fire could spread rapidly, especially in the valleys where it’s hotter and the fuels (grass, trees, and shrubs) are drier.

The Sapphire Complex 25 miles south-southeast of Missoula in the Rock Creek drainage has burned 24,491 acres and is estimated to be 24-percent contained.

There will be a community meeting Tuesday, August 8th, 7pm at the Rock Creek Fisherman's Mercantile to discuss the current and long term plans for the Goat Creek, Sliderock and Little Hogback Fires. Members of Incident Commander John Thompson's Central Montana Type 2 IMT and representatives of local and federal agencies will be on hand to answer questions and provide detailed information. The meeting will be streamed LIVE on the Lolo National Forest's Facebook page.

Goat Creek Fire: 7,703 acres, 62% contained. Fire resources continue to patrol and hold completed line along the Rock Creek road. A hotshot crew burned to the north from Brewster Creek road to reinforce their handline and will continue to hold and improve that line. Fire resources will monitor the north flank of the fire and extinguish any hot spots. On the east flank, fire crews completed hand and dozer line and are burning to widen and secure the line. Helicopter bucket drops are being utilized to support the firing operations. Heavy equipment is making progress on constructing line towards Sliderock.

Little Hogback Fire: 15,946 acres, 0% contained. Structure protection continues along the Red and Yellow Evacuation areas. Fire resources along Rock Creek road are monitoring backing fire and protecting structures. Fire crews utilized interior roads for firing operations to keep the fire in check along the east edge of the fire. Additional line is being scouted and constructed on the south and southeast portion of the fire. Yesterday, a fire retardant plant was set-up in the Upper Willow Creek area to assist with helicopter operations on the fire.

Sliderock Fire: 842 acres, 30% contained. Fire line is being monitored and held on the south and southeast flanks. Helicopters are using bucket drops to keep the north flank in check. Resources Threatened: Private property and structures in the Rock Creek and Upper Willow Creek drainage are threatened. Other resources threatened include a Bonneville Power Administration powerline and a communication site. Evacuations: 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, from Stony Creek south to the Kyle G. Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge, and from the Kyle G. Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge north to McDermott Gulch in the Upper Willow Creek drainage.

The Liberty Fire, southeast of Arlee is a good 85-percent contained. It’s burned 3,971-acres.

A community meeting will be held tonight at 6 PM at the Arlee Community Center. Incident management team members will be on hand to provide an update on the fire’s status and answer questions.

Yesterday firefighter efforts closed in on completion of fire line construction. Due to the inaccessibility of portions of the fire, the suppression strategy changed yesterday from 100% full suppression to: 70 percent confinement (confined with lines, natural barriers and past burn scars); 20 percent monitor; and 10 percent full suppression. The operational strategy was modified due to an elevated risk for personnel constructing direct line and a low probability of success in direct line containment.

To confine the fire, firefighters have completed approximately 21.5 miles of lines, or 85 percent of the total fire line needed. Two cabins in the Boles Meadow area were wrapped with protective material and fuels cleared around them to protect them should the fire reach the area.

Today firefighters will improve and expand fire lines. Today firefighters will focus on improving fire lines on the west and north flank. Fire lines have been completed on the fire’s east flank.

Equipment and crews that are no longer needed will be released and made available to other fires. Helicopters will remain active over the fire cooling down remaining hotspots along the fire’s perimeter.

Today the weather is expected to be warmer and dryer with light upslope winds out of the west. Fire growth is expected to be minimal due to a combination of smoke cover and light winds. There is an increasing chance of thunderstorms over the area beginning tomorrow.