Montana Wildfire Roundup For July 21, 2017

Jul 21, 2017

There are now more large wildfires burning in Montana than any other state. At least 18 large fires are consuming both forests and grasslands in eastern and western Montana.

That’s according to the National Interagency Fire Center, which says, “critical fire weather conditions are expected across the northwestern U.S."

On the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, the Arrastra Creek Fire six miles northwest of Lincoln saw “extreme” fire behavior yesterday due to gusty winds and low relative humidity, with short crown runs, wind-driven runs and short-range spotting. The fire is burning in subalpine fir and producing dark smoke columns. When the heat from the sun, the gusty winds, and the west facing slope came into alignment yesterday afternoon, the fire grew exponentially.

There is a red flag warning for the area today. Fire managers plan to move heavy equipment into the area to begin working along the Beaver Creek Road. The objective of the work is to create a fuel break that will keep the fire north of the road. Additional resources will be assigned, as they arrive.

Smoke settling in the valleys due to the early morning inversions affects public health and reduces visibility along highways. Individuals should limit exposure and activity in the morning hours when smoke is heaviest, and travelers should turn on headlights and slow down. Travelers on Highway 200 east of Ovando and west of Lincoln should be aware of bicyclists on the road.

The Park Creek Fire two miles north of Lincoln is now estimated at 2,725 acres and five percent contained.

Fire managers say, “The fire continued to be active in the large dead and downed logs and pockets of bug-killed trees, including along the thermal belt at mid-elevation during the nighttime hours. Gusty winds and low relative humidity associated with the passage of the cold front resulted in extreme fire behavior in the afternoon, with short crown runs, wind-driven runs and short-range spotting. The fire burned interior fuels north of the established fuel break in the area between the Park Creek and Liverpool Creek drainages.”

The red flag warning for the Arrastra Creek Fire applies to the Park Creek as well.

Today, fire officials say they, “will assess the movement and growth as a result of yesterday’s gusty winds and dry conditions. Crews and heavy equipment (feller-bunchers and skidders) will extend the fuel break along the forest boundary to the west, establishing a barrier to surface fire spread along the DNRC and private lands. Helicopters are available for water drops when needed. Additional resources will be assigned, as they arrive.”

There are several closures in effect due to these fires, find the latest information on closures and restrictions here.

The Sunrise Fire south of Superior grew to 482 acres fueled by gusty winds Thursday. Firefighters are using heavy equipment to build containment lines and will be assessing the need for structure protection for homes along Quartz Creek throughout the day.

Due to the increasing complexity of the fire, a Type 2 IMT from northern Idaho will take control of managing fire suppression on Saturday morning. The ICP/Base Camp for the Type 2 IMT is being established in the Tarkio Community.

There will be a community meeting at the Lozeau Lodge Pavilion Saturday at 7 p.m.

The lightning caused Goat Creek Fire in Granite County started Wednesday afternoon and is now estimated at 443 acres. It is located east of Missoula and south of I-90. It is six miles south of the Bonita Creek Guard Station and one mile east of Rock Creek Road.

Fire managers report, "Significant fire growth on Thursday, July 21 with sustained winds out of the southwest caused the Granite County Sheriff's Office to issue evacuation notices for Brewster Creek area and pre-evacuation notices for the Rock Creek residences between milemarkers 5 and 13 on the Rock Creek Road."

Residents living between mile markers 5 and 13 are in pre-evacuation status. Rock Creek Road is closed to local traffic only from mile marker 1 to the Kyle Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge (formerly know as Gillis Bridge).

Multiple aviation resources are assigned to the fire and helicopter bucket operations were conducted yesterday with more planned for today. Firefighters' goals for today are to check fire growth with aviation and assess structure protection.

There's a community meeting for the Goat Creek Fire tonight at 7 p.m. at the Clinton Fire Department located at 12300 US Highway 10 East in Clinton.

The Whetstone Ridge Fire, where firefighters used explosives this week to build fire lines, actively burned again yesterday and is approximately 1,166 acres. The fire made some uphill runs with spotting and group torching reaching the old Moose Meadows Fire from 2013. The fire is now west of the main Whetstone Ridge. Planned actions are to keep fire north of Road #80 (Copper Creek Road). Lines are currently being scouted to contain the fire.

Emergency closures remain in effect in the area of the fire.

Southwest of Philipsburg, the Meyers Fire is now over 1,200 acres. The fire is actively running and torching in lodgepole pine damaged or killed by pine beetles, and litter and understory fuels with heavy logging slash.

A type 3 Incident Command team is managing the fire. They plan indirect suppression and bucket drops and continued work on fuel breaks.

A temporary flight restriction is in effect in the area of the fire. Beware of fire traffic on the Moose Lake Road.

The 400 acre Monahan Fire is burning 17 miles NE of Seeley Lake It's located near Monahan Mountain and the border of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. Fire personnel plan to monitor the fire from the air, and prepare structure protection for Forest Service buildings in the area.

Trail Closures in the area include: Limestone Pass trail #402 from intersection of Monture Creek #27 to FS Trail #127 at Limestone Pass.

On the Bitterroot National Forest, the Dominic Butte Fire east of Corvallis grew to 55 acres Thursday. Firefighters constructed fire and hose lines yesterday, and aircraft assisted in suppression efforts. Hand crews will continue their work today as fire managers want to keep the fire north of Willow Mountain Road, west of the Willow Lookout and east of Deep Creek.  Two helicopters are also available to respond to any new spot fires and check fire growth.

Several other small fires are burning on the Bitterroot National Forest which are being allowed to burn for resource management benefits. The Martin Creek Fire is in mop up after firefighters' quick response yesterday.

Four fires covering over 50,000 acres in Garfield County make up the Lodgepole Complex.

At 32,000 acres, the Bridger Coulee Fire is the largest of the four, burning 16 miles north of Mosby, MT.

The Barker Fire, 20 miles north of Sand Springs is estimated at 12,000 acres.

The South Breaks Fire, 27 miles northeast of Mosby, is estimated at 7,000 acres.

The Square Butte Fire, 19 miles north of Sand Springs is 808 acres.

The Western Montana Type 2 Incident Management Team (Connell) is en route to manage the Lodgepole Complex.

Stage 1 fire restrictions are currently in effect in Garfield County.

On the Lolo Peak Fire, a type one incident management team is scheduled to take over at 6:00 tonight.

Irv Leach is manager of the Type 2 team that’s been managing the Lolo Peak, as well as two other fires east of Missoula. 

"Having that team in place, and able to respond and deal with that just makes for a better scenario," Leach says.

At a meeting in Lolo last night, Leach said that although the Lolo Peak Fire isn’t currently threatening any homes, it, “isn’t going away anytime soon.”
"Eventually, there’s going to be a wind event that could push the fire down into the flat, and then potentially start threatening structures," says Leach.

The Lolo Peak fire is about six miles, by air, south of Highway 12, and about eight miles west of Highway 93.

At a community meeting last night, fire managers said gaining access to attack the fire is difficult due to its remote location in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and rugged terrain. They said they expect the fire to grow and are making plans for how to attack it should it push north and/or east towards Highways 12 and 93, and the communities of Lolo and Florence.

East of Deer Lodge, the Limburger Fire, sparked by lightning on Wednesday, is estimated at 75 acres, and burning in heavy, dense snag patches of timber. No structures are threatened at this time.

Today, firefighters will continue constructing fireline where it’s safe to do so, as well as using chainsaws and heavy equipment to help create a fuel break.