Eric Whitney

Eric Whitney is the news director for Montana Public Radio.


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."

There will be a Community Meeting Tomorrow for the Whetstone Ridge & Myers Fires. Representatives from the Goat Creek, Little Hogback, and Sliderock Fires will be presenting an update on those fires. The meeting is set for 7:00 p.m. at the Philipsburg School located at 407 Schnepel St. in Philipsburg, Montana.

There will be a public meeting for the Lolo Peak Fire on Monday, July 24, at 7:00 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Lolo Elementary School.

At a press conference Thursday, Mike Wheelock, the president of the company that employed 19-year-old firefighter Trenton Johnson was visibly shaken while giving details of the accident that killed Johnson on Wednesday.

"We just ask that you keep the family in your prayers, and the fellow workers, and all the firefighters that are out there right now on the line," he said, choking up. 

Updated 12:53 am

The Monahan Fire on the Lolo National Forest in the Seeley Lake District has moved onto the Flathead National Forest in the Southern Spotted Bear Ranger District. The fire is predicted at 175 acres, with just a few of those acres on the Flathead National Forest. This is a high elevation fire, managed for fire to play its natural role. Trails are closed at Limestone Pass and Blackfoot Divide.

Updated 6:20 pm:

A lightning strike near Lincoln grew into a nearly 200-acre blaze today. The Arrastra Fire is burning in very steep terrain a few drainages west of the 1,800-acre Park Creek Fire.

Peri Suenram, public information officer for the Park Creek Fire, says the new blaze is on a steep, heavily timbered hillside burning through beetle-killed trees.

"It's still initial attack," Suenram says. "There are 30 people up on the hill and they are using a helicopter on it doing bucket work."

Updated 6:05 pm

Fire officials in the greater Flathead Valley say there’s been 86 wildfires reported in the area since July 1, and at least half of them are human caused. The area is currently pegged at “Very High” fire danger, as hot, dry conditions and almost daily lightning storms persist.

Lincoln Chute is the fire manager for Flathead County Office of Emergency Services.

Updated 6:50 pm

In addition to the Lolo Peak Fire, several other fires on the Lolo National Forest include a pair on the Ninemile ranger district. Those are the approximately three acre Sunrise Fire, located ten miles south of Superior, and the estimated 12-mile Burdette Fire is located about nine miles southeast of Tarkio. That fire showed minimal activity yesterday.

On the Seeley Lake Ranger District, the Monahan Fire is located about 17 miles north of Ovando and is burning near the Wilderness boundary in remote terrain.

Update 4:15 PM:

New fires are cropping up and emergency officials are preparing for potentially dangerous fire weather over the weekend. About 2:00 this afternoon evacuations started east of Roundup due to a fire estimated at 2,000 acres that was discovered this morning.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter for evacuees in Roundup, it is unclear at this time how many people might be displaced.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’ll have an updated health care bill ready Thursday for the legislative body to work on.

In a press call with reporters, Montana’s Democratic  Senator Jon Tester said he’s willing to work with Republicans on compromise health care legislation.

Updated 10:45 AM.

In Northwest Montana:

Weather conditions kept behavior of the Lazier Creek 3 Fire "moderate" yesterday, firefighters report. Today's estimate of the fire's size remaines at 1,145 acres, and 30 percent contained, the same as yesterday. There are 176 personnel assigned to the fire.

The fire is located south of Highway 2 and west of the Thompson River Road.