MTPR

Montana Wildfire News

Starting 10 a.m. on Monday, 8/21/17, the following changes to evacuation areas in Missoula County will be in effect: 

Lolo area residents gather at an incident command site Friday, August 18 as evening winds stoke the Lolo Peak Fire.
Beau Baker

Forecasters are predicting a couple more relatively calm days on the Lolo Peak Fire southwest of Missoula. This after firefighters and communities from Lolo south to Florence faced their most severe test when the fire grew explosively Friday night, eating up 9,000 acres in a single day.

We’ll have more on what firefighters are expecting in a moment, but for now, let’s go back to Friday night when MTPR’s Beau Baker was reporting from the junction of Highways 12 and 93.

Missoula City-County Health

Here's Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield's latest report for Sunday morning, August 20th:

"Good morning, The air quality in Missoula was good this morning, but only for a few hundred feet.

Map of the Lolo Peak Fire generated via infrared sensing flight, current as of Sunday morning, August 20
Eric Whitney

Fire crews are expecting a calmer day on the Lolo Peak Fire today. Mike Cole, a fire information officer with the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team gave us this update about 9:00 am Sunday.  

"Saturday was a very good day and today we expect another one," Cole says.

Lolo Peak Fire Photos

Aug 19, 2017
Smoke plume from the Lolo Peak fire as seen from Missoula the evening of 8/18.
Anne Hosler

Photos from the Lolo Peak Fire, 8/17 through 8/19.

Inciweb

Fire activity is picking up above the Florence area in the Bitterroot Valley at this hour. 

Inciweb

About noon Saturday, a firefighter was hit by a rock and took a fall near the ski area at McClain Creek. 

U.S. Forest Service

As the Lolo Peak Fire made its major run along Highway 12 Friday night, somebody decided to launch a drone to capture some dramatic video or pictures. This irresponsible behavior forced fire managers to shut down critical air operations over the fire area.

The east side of the Lolo Peak Fire, via a map generated by an infrared flight early Saturday morning
Eric Whitney

Fire Information Officer Bill Queen says the Lolo Peak Fire only jumped the primary containment line in one place last night, in the Maple Creek drainage. But he says no additional homes or structures were lost last night. The fire grew by about 9,000 acres last night, and it's total size is now 27,906 acres. 

We will update this post with additional information as it becomes available. 

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 18, 2017

Aug 18, 2017

As of 6:40 p.m. there is a new evacuation order along the north side of Highway 12, west of Stella Blue Dr., including all of Sleeman Creek Rd. The order does not include Stella Blue Dr.

A super scooper plane loads up at Seeley Lake on the evening of August 1, while fighting the Rice Ridge Fire visible in the background.
Eric Whitney

The waters of Seeley Lake were reopened for recreational use earlier Friday.

Kristen Miller, a spokesperson for the Rice Ridge Fire, says the lake reopened because super scooper planes that had been pulling water from the lake were no longer being used on the fire.

Lolo Peak Fire, August 10, 2017.
Inciweb

Montana will be getting FEMA funding to help with the costs of the Lolo Peak Fire.

Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jerry DeFelice says funding is now available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting cost on the Lolo Peak Fire.

Florence Volunteer Fire Department truck.
Andy Lyon/Inciweb

The Lolo Peak Fire made another significant run Thursday night, and according to fire information officer, Mike Cole, this time it took a few buildings with it.

"Yesterday evening, we actually had some structures burn about a mile-and-a-half southwest of the town of Lolo; that was in the evening. The Missoula County Rural Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department is out there accessing that damage this morning, so they can notify the property owners. Those structures were in one of the evacuation order areas," Cole says.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire seen from Missoula on the evening of August 16, 2017.
Anne Hosler

This afternoon, the evacuation order area for the Lolo Peak Fire has been extended south in the Highway 93 corridor. The area currently under evacuation order is on the west side of Highway 93, and now extends South from mile marker 78 all the way to Tie Chute Lane.

There is also a new evacuation warning area from Tie Chute Lane south to Bass Creek Road.

The Lolo Peak Fire sends a large plume of smoke into the air, visible from Missoula on the evening of Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Anne Hosler

Western Montana’s Lolo Peak Fire burned through almost 5,000 acres during its run Wednesday night west of Lolo. Stiff winds spurred that now 15,000 acre fire on its four mile push to the east.

"Where the fire moved, to an extent was not a surprise as it relates to the overall plan. How quickly it moved to where it did, obviously, nobody was necessarily expecting that to happen as quickly as it did," says Lolo Peak Fire Information officer Bill Queen.

Perimeter of the Lolo Peak Fire (in red) as of the afternoon of August 17, 2017.
Inciweb

The 15,000 acre Lolo Peak Fire is quickly outgrowing law enforcement’s ability to secure the estimated 600 homes now evacuated along the Highway 93 and Highway 12 corridors.

Fire officials have now turned to the Montana National Guard for help.

Inciweb

The Granite County Sheriff’s Office issued a “red” evacuation order yesterday for the Upper Willow Creek area and a “yellow” evacuation warning for the Marshall Creek area due to the Little Hogback Fire, part of the Sapphire Complex burning south of Missoula.

Evacuees check in with Missoula County Sheriff's Department Staff in Lolo Wednesday night
Eric Whitney

Update: 9:50: This from the Missoula County Sheriff's Office: "Due to the recent fire activity, evacuation passes need to be postponed until further notice.

The Lolo Peak Fire plume seen from Florence The Lolo Peak Fire plume seen from Florence about 8:00 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017.8:00 pm Wednesday night
Eric Whitney

There’s a new evacuation order in the Lolo and Traveler’s Rest area issued by the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

This is an evacuation order, not a warning, that includes portions of the Highway 93 and Highway 12 corridors.

Inciweb

Montana's firefighting fund could run dry by the end of the week, the state's budget director acknowledged Wednesday, forcing officials to draw money from emergency reserves to keep crews and equipment on the front lines of the worst collection of wildfires in the U.S.

This massive Black Hawk chopper is on loan from the Montana National Guard as part of the resource-sharing enabled by a state of fire emergency declared by Governor Steve Bullock last month.
Nicky Ouellet

In the past week alone, firefighters in northwest Montana attacked more than 40 small wildfires, and there’s no end in sight for this summer’s active fire season. But, firefighters are about to get some big help.

"That is the Black Hawk coming in right there," says Wyatt Frampton.

Montana's Firefighting Fund Running On Empty

Aug 16, 2017
Montana is spending over a million dollars a day fighting wildfires. These are Goat Creek and Sliderock fires, July 23, 2017.
Inciweb

Montana's firefighting fund will run dry by the end of the week, forcing state officials to begin drawing money from emergency reserves to keep crews and equipment on the front lines of the country's worst collection of wildland fires.

As of today, more than $168 million of mostly federal money has gone into battling about 80 large fires that have charred more than 400,000 acres statewide.

If you’re wondering what climate change will look like in Montana, state climatologist Kelsey Jencso says take a look outside. 

“This is certainly what the future may look like,” he says.

Inciweb

The size of the mandatory evacuation area along U.S. Highway 12 west of Lolo has been reduced.

At about 2:00 p.m. Missoula County’s Sheriff allowed residents along a 1.7  mile stretch of Highway 12 back into their homes. That stretch is on the east side of the evacuation area, it’s from mile marker 20 to 21.7.

The original evacuation order applied to about 165 residences. Today’s modification reduces that to about 150.

Verde Creek night firing operation on the Sunrise fire.
Alan McGuire-Dale/Inciweb

Montana Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale says many homeowners insurance policies can help out with evacuation expenses.

“If you’re subject to a mandatory civil evacuation order many insurance policies will provide extra living expense coverage for up to two weeks,” he says.

The largest wildfire in the U.S. this year burned in Montana, decimating 423 miles of fertile rangeland, and with it, the livelihoods of many Garfield and Petroleum County ranchers.

Republican State Representative Bill Harris of Winnet was one of them. Harris documented much of the disaster that destroyed his ranchland on his personal Facebook. He’s pointing the finger at a nearby Wilderness Study Area (WSA) managed by the Bureau of Land Management as contributing to overall fire devastation.

Inciweb

Parts of Western Montana were breathing a little easier this morning after weekend thunderstorms brought with them cooler temperatures and increased humidity.

But the storms also prompted the evacuation of about 160 homes on either side of Highway 12 west of Lolo mid-day Sunday.

One of the five helicopters DNRC has stationed around the state to fight wildfires.
Corin Cates-Carney

A few miles north of Lincoln, wildfires are burning more than 9,000 acres along steep slopes full of thick brush and snags.

Matt Conklin is a Forest Service incident commander. He says these fires are among the few that escaped initial attacks to put them out.

Lolo Peak Fire, August 10, 2017.
Inciweb

Updated 6:30 p.m.

Encouraging news from Lolo Peak Fire spokesman Mark Struble: Now that the cold front has passed through western Montana, the winds have significantly abated, a little bit of rain fell and relative humidity spiked up to about 50-percent for a while.

Verde Creek night firing operation on the Sunrise fire.
Alan McGuire-Dale/Inciweb

8/12   9 p.m.

Trout Creek Road from Magone Ranch (near Pellet Mill) southwest through the fire area is in Stage 3 evacuation, meaning residents need to leave their homes, as of 7 a.m. Saturday. Quartz Creek, Cougar Gulch, and Verde Creek are also in Stage 3 evacuation. 

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