A crew of firefighters working on the Liberty Fire east of Arlee found themselves trapped Saturday night, after a sudden shift in the wind ignited hundreds of small spot fires in the path of their planned escape route.
David Chevalier, a public information officer on the Liberty Fire, says the mix of dry fuels on the ground and hot and windy weather made for the worst case scenario.
"A number of them made it to the road and headed to the safety zone, but a few were cut off and had to take another route," he says.
The four that were cut off were in the process of pulling their individual emergency fire shelters from their packs, when the wind suddenly dropped, almost magically, Chevalier says.
"It opened up the smoke a little bit and they made a dash and made it to the road they were working there, then reconvened with the rest of their team in a safe zone. so it was pretty spooky for a while, looked like it was going to go bad, but luck with on our side," he says.
The fire itself isn’t the only trouble firefighters face out in the woods. On Friday, a bear challenged a team working clean up using a wood chipper.
"We think that the grizzly thought that was a challenge from a bigger critter, because he came out and did his up and down with his paws to let the chipper know that he was the dominant animal on the scene," he says.
Chevalier says the crew was able to escape by piling into the cab of an engine. The team has since been given bear spray training and issued cans of bear repellent.
Unpredictable winds caused fire growth for most fires in western Montana Sunday, leading to several evacuation orders and warnings.