Montana Wildfire Roundup For September 8, 2017

Sep 8, 2017

Updated 7:00 p.m.

Officials on the Alice Creek fire announced at about 5pm that they are evacuating homes along highway 200, from mile post 92 east to Highway 435-434. The evacuations are mandatory and there is a temporary shelter being opened up at the Wolf Creek School.

, Officials say they are working with the Montana Department of Transportation to block off private driveways all along the evacuated area. When this is accomplished, they will reopen the highway. 

Updated 5:45 p.m.

As what’s being called a, “critical fire weather” weekend approaches, Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says: “Available overhead, crews, engines, and aircraft are insufficient to meet existing needs in the Northern Rockies."

A DNRC press release says a cold front is forecast to pass through the area tomorrow, bringing strong gusty winds, lightning, but little chance of precipitation. Fire managers are asking the public to be hyper-vigilant.

DNRC says that nationwide, firefighting crews are in short supply due to severe fire seasons in Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California.

Alice Creek Fire NE of Lincoln

Officials on the Alice Creek fire announced a few minutes ago that they are evacuating homes along highway 200, from mile post 92 east to Highway 435-434. The evacuations are mandatory and there is a temporary shelter being opened up at the Wolf Creek School.

Highway 200 is temporarily closed east of Lincoln between Highway 279 and  Highway 287, Officials say they are working with the Montana Department of Transportation to block off private driveways all along the evacuated area. When this is accomplished, we will reopen the highway.

Since the fire started on July 22, airtankers have dropped a 250,000 gallons of retardant on the fire. Yesterday alone, eight loads of retardant were dropped.

Almost three hundred people are working to contain the blaze.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park has stopped issuing backcountry camping permits due to an expected increase in fire activity this weekend.

This weekend’s incoming cold front will likely usher in gusty winds and dry thunderstorms, which fire officials say could grow existing fires and start new ones across western Montana.

Lauren Alley, a spokesperson for the park, says this will be a critical fire weekend in Glacier.

"The park wants to reduce the number of people in the backcountry overnight given that that possibility."

This cancels 161 advanced registrations for the weekend. Most backcountry trails on the eastern side of the park remain open for day use.

Glacier has already closed the western half of its iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road, as well as the historic Lake McDonald Lodge due to wildfires.

Fire crews have laid an elaborate hose and sprinkler system to protect Lake McDonald Lodge, private houses along the north end of Lake McDonald and the popular Trail of the Cedars.

Rice Ridge Fire N of Seeley Lake

After days of heavy smoke that helped suppress activity, fire managers at the Rice Ridge fire near Seeley Lake are gearing up for a radical shift in weather that is expected to arrive on Saturday.

“That will probably bring us gusty winds and clear skies which would foster fire growth. I think we’re in a good position to deal with that.”

That’s Don Ferguson, a PIO for the fire.

He says crews are ready for the change in conditions. They’ve been working around the clock in fighting the over 120,000 acre blaze.

That includes Type 1 fire crews like the Flathead and Prescott Hotshots who were on the ground today building fire lines to protect the town of Seeley Lake.

“Type 1 crews, or hotshot crews, are in really high demand right now. But where we need to use them, there’s no substitute for those crews. We’re lucky to have them.”

Ferguson says of the hotshots’ experience in rugged wildland conditions and their ability to work independently in extreme conditions:

“They’re really the best we can get, and that’s why they call them Type 1 crews.”

But Ferguson says that for even the most experienced firefighters, facing adverse fire weather conditions like what’s expected this weekend is dangerous.

“You know, we tell them to keep one foot in the black, that’s sort of a metaphor for you have to have a really heightened awareness of where your escape routes and safety zones are.”

Hart Fire

A new fire was both sparked and contained in southeastern Montana today.

The Rosebud County Disaster and Emergency Services say the Hart Fire, located seven miles south of Ashland, burned 165 acres before it was contained.

Rosebud County has two engines, a dozer and a water tender on scene and crews are mopping up.


Updated 10:40 am

Caribou Fire: Yesterday, Firefighters continue to mop-up hot spots and cool them down along the perimeter of West Kootenai, particularly in the Rocky Mountain Trail area. Crews and heavy equipment improved the four miles of fireline to the west and north, while joining lines to the south. Crews continued to improve fireline on the west end near Blacktail Creek. Cooler temperatures and lighter winds reduced fire activity. Direct fireline construction began in several locations along the south flank of the fire around Marias Mountain.

Today, Six additional hand crews will reinforce existing firelines in the West Kootenai area searching out hot spots and cooling them down. Firefighters will begin direct line construction heading west from the 303 Road. Heavy equipment will be used to build direct and indirect fireline along the south flank of Marias Mountain and on the west side of the fire near Blacktail Creek. With the potential for better visibility, helicopters can be used to help firefighters on the ground with water bucket drops.

Gibralter Ridge Fire: Cooler weather caused the fire to be less active. The fire has backed down to Williams Creek. Crews will continue to evaluate the creek bottom to ensure against fire spread. This is a steep snag-prone work area exposing firefighters to danger. Firefighters continue to look for potential hot spots around Grave Creek and the fire perimeter. Structure protection, including sprinklers and hose lays, are in place in case they are needed.


Updated 10:34 am

On the Highway 200 Complex, the blanket of smoke has continued to keep fire activity minimal within the complex over the past four days. The majority of the smoke has come in from Washington and Oregon fires and has created an inversion, allowing heat to escape while shading the fire areas. Firefighters have used this time to continue working on establishing indirect fire lines, shaded fuels breaks, and structure protection lines using hand crews and heavy equipment. The constant layer of heavy smoke has prevented aircraft from being able to fly. Some fire growth has occurred over the past four days primarily driven by dry fuels and warm temperatures.

Outlook: Smokey and mild weather will continue on Friday providing another day of moderated fire behavior. These conditions will allow firefighters to prepare more line and shaded fuel breaks before a frontal passage that is forecast for Saturday. Once visibility increases, aircraft will again be able to fly and will once again be assisting ground crews. Some additional resources, both equipment and crews have continued to arrive and will be utilized where there is the most need and they have the greatest chance of successful operations. Structure protection and assessment will continue to be the priority for management. The goal is to get as much indirect line and fuels breaks ready before the forecasted wind event on Saturday.

Two public meetings on the Highway 200 Complex between Plains and Trout Creek are scheduled: Today, September 8thThompson Falls High School, 7 PM, and tomorrow, September 9th, Plains High School, 7 PM.

Updated 10:22 am

Crews on the Alice Creek Fire outside Augusta are expecting thunderstorms to move into the area beginning around 4 p.m. today. Rain is not expected, however, lightning is a concern for firefighters. This system will be problematic for firefighters as it may produce strong and erratic winds that may reach to 20-30 mph. A Fire Weather Watch is in effect for Saturday afternoon and night for dry thunderstorms ahead of a dry cold front. Meteorologists anticipate this affecting the fire area late Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning. 

A good summary of conditions on and predictions for the Alice Creek Fire is available here.

Updated 10:15am

The plan for the West Fork Fire north of Libby is: Continue mechanical containment line construction along southern boundary of the fire.

Fire will continue to grow with predicted wind. Fire will make runs to the north in continuous fuels. Continued hot and dry conditions will increase fire behavior.


Smokey conditions will continue on Friday with highs in the 80s. Minimum humidity will fall to 20-25% and winds will be southwest from 5-10mph. A Fire Weather Watch is in effect for Saturday.


Updated 10:07 am

The Liberty Fire northwest of Seeley Lake is also being managed by the Rice Ridge team. They have been assessing structures around Placid Lake and working on protection measures for them, including today bringing in hoses, pumps and sprinklers. Fire managers call this “a pre-emptive move to stay well ahead of any west wind pushing the fire east... there areno immediate threats at this time.”

The southeast perimeter of the fire continues to be the priority and crews focused their efforts to secure lines in the Wild Horse Creek drainage and along Wild Horse road in anticipation of predicted winds Saturday. 

Updated 10:03 am

Managers on the Rice Ridge Fire between Seeley Lake and Ovando report the fire was active all day yesterday and into the night.

The overall strategy for the is to “lock in” firelines on the fire's northwest corner to a fire scar from 2015. Then crews plan to continue securing line as they move south, through and beyond Seeley Lake to Cozy Corner, “steering the fire away from values at risk.”

In the northwest corner, they have concerns near Camp, Murphy, and Findell creeks and will work those areas extensively today.

Sawyer creek looks good, crews are close to attaining mop up there.

Last night crews picked up a spot fire in the northwest fire area, and fought it until 3 am. Last night temperatures in the area were in the 70s with relative humidities in the teens.

On the fire's southeast corner, a heavy equipment task force is moving east, and is withing a quarter-mile of meeting another heavy equipment task force coming from the west. After they do, crews will have a lot of work to do removing slash piles.

On the south of the fire, teams are scouting the Spread Creek area for potential places to engage the fire directly. They are also putting indirect line in from Monture Road to the North Fork of the Blackfoot River. More heavy equipment will be moved into that area when it becomes available.



Updated 9:35 am

In Glacier National Park, most of Thursday the visibility was well under one half mile. This is not likely to improve much today.

Installation of the "rain for rent" sprinkler system continues in the Lake McDonald Lodge area. The main line and six inch pump were installed Thursday. Lateral hand line installation should be completed today. This will free up existing pump and hose lay systems to be moved to other areas where they are needed.Sprinklers and road spraying were being done around the Lake McDonald Lodge complex to increase local humidity and cool the immediate area. This is also being done in the Avalanche Creek Campground and Trail of the Cedars area. Similar protections are being installed in the North McDonald Lake area. The Wheeler Cabin wrapping was initiated yesterday and should finish today.Firefighters continue to grid and mop up around the Sperry Chalet complex which is still experiencing single tree torching and hot spots.

The high pressure system will continue through Friday afternoon with dense smoke blanketing Lake McDonald. It is hoped the approaching cold front and westerly winds will disperse some of the thick smoke currently in the area. 

An isolated dry thunderstorm is possible Friday night or Saturday, but the main concern for the weekend will be increasing wind speeds.

A Fire Weather Watch has been issued for the region this weekend for the passage of the cold front and the development of gusty westerly winds.

The Sprague Fire is now estimated at 13,275 acres and 35 percent contained.

The Adair Peak Fire grew 379 acres and is now estimated at 1754 acres. The most heat is on the south east side of the fire. Wrapping of the Lower Patrol Cabin was initiated. Additional materials will be brought in by the Glacier National Park pack string today. Fire managers expect the fire behavior to remain moderate as this fire enters old fire scars.

Two public meetings on the Highway 200 Complex between Plains and Trout Creek are scheduled: Today, September 8thThompson Falls High School, 7 PM, and tomorrow, September 9th, Plains High School, 7 PM.

The East Fork Fire south of Havre is now 90 percent contained, but crews are concerned about an upper level disturbance that will pass by to the east of the region on Friday, keeping hot and dry conditions in place while producing gusty afternoon winds. This will produce critical fire weather conditions across the fire area and a Red Flag Warning has been issued for the area from noon until 8 pm.

High temperatures around 90 degrees and relative humidity levels dipping down to 8 percent are forecast for Friday. Winds will be out of the east 12-18 mph, with gusts up to 25 mph after 1200.

The Sunrise Fire outside Superior is also being called 90 percent contained, the weather forecast there: Dry and warm conditions look to persist through the first half of this week as the high pressure ridge shifts slightly westward. No precipitation or significant cooling is anticipated. Gusty west winds with very warm and dry conditions could provide critical fire weather.