Montana Wildfire Roundup For September 6, 2017

Sep 6, 2017
Originally published on September 6, 2017 10:07 pm

Updated 11 p.m.

The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office has ordered new evacuations due to the West Fork Fire, including:

  • Kootenai River Road from Quartz Creek to end of Bighorn Terrace
  • North side of Kootenai River Road from North Central to Quartz Creek
  • Lower Bobtail, including Burrell and Indian Pipe

Please be out by noon tomorrow (9/7). For questions call: 406-293-6295

Updated 6 p.m. 

Evacuation orders have been lifted on some fires in Montana, but some residents who returned home are being warned to prepare to leave again, if needed.

The Missoula County sheriff's office has downgraded a mandatory evacuation order for part of Seeley Lake, while the Hill County sheriff lifted evacuation orders on the East Fork Fire in the Bears Paw Mountains.

That 21,000 acre blaze is 85 percent contained and not expected to spread. Last week it destroyed five cabins and five outbuildings as it burned across a mix of private and federal lands in Blaine and Hill counties and the Rocky Boy’s reservation.

Meanwhile, near the Lolo Peak Fire, over a 1,000 structures are under an evacuation warning, but there are no evacuation orders in place.

Some evacuation orders remain in effect near Lincoln, where four cabins burned over the weekend. Some residents were allowed to return to their homes yesterday evening, but they were asked to remain ready to leave on short notice.

Heavy smoke over the Sprague Fire in Glacier National Park made for a day of reduced fire behavior today.

The fire, burning east of Lake McDonald, did not grow in size Tuesday night, but the dense smoke and low visibility has also limited helicopter flight time. Thousands of feet of high capacity sprinklers arrived today to help firefighters create a fire break in the North McDonald Lake area. Sprinkler systems have already been installed around structures in the Lake McDonald Lodge complex and the Avalanche Creek Campground.

An evacuation order remains in place from the south end of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass, but the east side of Going-to-the-Sun Road remains open.

Fire and Glacier Park officials will hold a public meeting tonight at 7 at the Glacier Park Headquarters Community Building. The meeting will focus on fire activities to date and future projections.

A private company that had previously allowed public use of its lands in northwest Montana announced Tuesday that it would no longer do so due to extreme fire danger.

Weyerhaeuser Company, which merged with Plum Creek last year, announced that all of its lands in Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, Missoula Sanders and Ravalli Counties are closed to public access until further notice.

Smoke from the Rice Ridge Fire burning outside Seeley Lake is proving to be both a blessing and a curse.

Public Information Officer Mike Cole says that near Seeley, it’s an eerie sight.

"It’s very strange. Pretty much the last few days, all we see is an orange ball coming up in the sky, and it goes from nighttime to daylight but daylight is white."

The density of smoke has shaded forested areas from direct sunlight, and weakened fire activity, so the fire isn’t growing as fast. But crews haven’t been able to use aircraft for the last few days, and it’s harder to see where the fire is moving during the day time. They’re continuing to focus their work on protecting the town of Seeley Lake, and near the North Fork of the Blackfoot, to protect homes and structures.

But Cole says the biggest concern is currently the growth of the fire out of the mountains to the south.

"The reason we’re worried about that is if the fire gets down into stands of Ponderosa pine, where there’s more grass, or where there are large stands of grass and sage brush in the Blackfoot Clearwater Wildlife area down there, and we get any wind on it, then that fire is really going to be able to move fast through that type of fuel."

This fire management team is preparing for the possibility of the Rice Ridge fire merging with the Park Creek Fire near Lincoln.

The Sartin Draw Fire northeast of Ashland is now 100 percent contained. Over 200 people fought the fire, which burned almost 100,000 acres of grassland and timber in southeastern Montana. Many of those personnel have now been sent to other fires in the state. Warmer weather is forecast for western Montana the rest of the week.

Updated 11:30 a.m.

On the Highway 200 Complex of fires between Plains and Trout Creek, all the smoke hanging in the area, while bad for breathing, has been very helpful for the Highway 200 Complex fire management activities. 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. This change in weather has provided firefighters with a window of opportunity to establish structure protection lines using hand crews and heavy machinery. Minimal fire growth occurred over the last two days and suppression actions have been largely successful

Outlook: Smokey, more mild weather will continue today providing another day of moderated fire behavior. By Thursday, however, the weather will begin to change with increased temperatures, moderate wind, and the possibility of thunderstorms that could clear out the smoke inversion. Once visibility increases, aircraft will again be able to fly and will once again be assisting ground crews. Aircraft will also assist with several burn out operations are planned to strategically remove fuel between fire lines and the main body of the fires. Additional resources, both equipment and crews has arrived throughout the day 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. Weather and limited firefighting resources continue to challenge firefighting operations.

Updated 10:30 a.m.

North of Lincoln, the Park Creek Fire is burning in timber stands with high mortality with multiple snags and heavy dead and down fuels.

The Western perimeter of the fire continues to consume heavy fuels creating areas of concentrated smoke. The fire has spread West of Arrastra Creek, with most acreage growth in the Northwest portion of the Arrastra creek drainage (see map).

Steep rugged terrain, large dead fuels and numerous snags continue to be the primary safety concerns for fire crews. The safety of fire personnel and human life remain the highest priority.

Crews will continue to extend the fuel break along Beaver Creek Road over Huckleberry Pass.

On other areas of the fire, crews will continue mop-up operations to further secure lines, and will also monitor for spread toward Management Action Points.

There has been moderate fire activity. With hotter and dryer conditions today's fire activity is expected to remain moderate. Interior smokes cannot be accessed due to danger of snags.

As a ridge of high pressure rebuilds into the region, dry, mostly sunny and warm conditions will prevail. Afternoon RH values will be very low. Wind speeds will be less than 10 mph with a wind shift from North/West to East/North-East, Wednesday night and Thursday.

Later in the week, temperatures are expected to increase.

An area closure is still in effect, and has been amended to include all National Forest Service Lands, Roads and Trails North of HWY 200 on the Lincoln Ranger District. These closures are in support of the Alice Creek and Park Creek Fire Operations, and will remain in effect until rescinded.

Updated 10:10 a.m.

At 9:23a.m this morning, the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office issued an urgent reminder that a mandatory evacuation order is in effect for all residents of Elk Meadows, northeast of Lincoln.

This also includes all residents along Highway 200 between mile marker 93 through mile marker 97 due to an increased threat from the growing wildfire. For safety, affected residents are asked to vacate their homes as soon as practical.

Mile marker 93 is near Elk Meadows subdivision and mile marker 97 is close to the south fork of the Dearborn River on Highway 200, east of Rogers Pass.

The area includes 16 homes in the subdivision and 10 along the highway.

Highway 200 remains open but that "could change at a moments notice," said Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.

Questions about the mandatory evacuations can be directed to 208-991-0067.

Updated 10:02 a.m.

Yesterday on the Lolo Peak Fire, the inversion hampered air operations over most of the fire. However, a helicopter was able drop retardant to assist crews working on the ground on the west side of the fire where it had spotted over the primary containment line. This helped firefighters hold that flank of the fire. A hot spot was detected in Sweeney Creek drainage and the fire has progressed to the bottom of the slope. Overnight, crews were successful in completing the 120 acre burnout operation south of Sweeney Creek. Suppression repair work continues on the north side of the fire. Structure assessments are complete in all areas.

Today if conditions permit, burnout operations will begin in the area south of Bass Creek. Burnout operations decrease the probability of high intensity fire from impacting residences and other high value resources. Suppression repair work and structure assessments will continue elsewhere around the fire. Crews are constructing a line south of Kootenai Creek to provide an opportunity to direct the fire away from homes and structures should it continue to progress to the south.

The Weather forecast is for sunny and warm weather with strong inversions is predicted. Monsoonal weather could return late in the week increasing the potential for thunderstorms over the area, but measurable precipitation is not expected.

Updated 9:40 am

Rice Ridge Fire: At 5:35 pm on Monday, Evacuation Zone 1 in Seeley Lake was downgraded from an Evacuation Order to an Evacuation Warning, allowing residents in that area to return to their homes for the first time since August 28th. This change affected approximately 429 properties.

Higher temperatures and lower relative humidity, in combination with a highly unstable air mass over the fire area is expected to result in increased fire activity later in the afternoon, especially on the south side of the fire.

Firefighters will continue to hold, mop up and improve line on the Seeley Lake side of the fire, including the use of heavy equipment to extend fire line and construct sheltered fuel breaks to the southeast. Heavy equipment will be used to remove some of the downed trees in the spruce bog in the Morrell Creek drainage so firefighters will be able to do a better job of mop up in that location. Work will begin with heavy equipment on indirect fire line construction east from Monture. Structure protection will continue around Coopers Lake with structure assessment in the Upper Blackfoot Ranch community. Firefighters from Seeley Lake Ranger District will be flown in to wrap the Carmichael Cabin in the upper North Fork of the Blackfoot River near McDonnell Meadow northeast of the fire. Firefighters will coordinate operations with the Park Creek fire to the east as these fires grow closer together. Preliminary structure assessment will begin around the Placid Lake area west of Seeley Lake in order to be prepared ahead of time in the event that the Liberty fire moves towards that area.

Updated 9:26 am

On the Sprague and Adair Creek Fires in Glacier National Park, heavy localized smoke is causing a reduction in fire behavior.

Fire Managers, residents, and Park visitors are experiencing the pros and cons of smoke. Air quality is expected to be poor over the next few days because of the high pressure building almost directly over the fire. This results in stable conditions and light winds. The advantage of smoke is the "dampening" effect it has on fire behavior. Last night the Sprague Fire did not grow in size. Because of the smoky conditions, helicopter use was limited to only one mission yesterday. The night shift monitored fire activity on Snyder Ridge and patrolled the Lake McDonald Lodge complex again last night.

There will be a public meeting tonight at 7:00 pm at the Glacier Park Headquarters Community Building.

Over 1000 feet of mainline and 8000 feet of lateral hand line will be arriving today in the Lake McDonald Lodge complex area. This is a system of high capacity sprinklers designed to wet large areas to create a fire break. Yesterday firefighters installed hose lays and sprinklers in the Avalanche Creek Campground. Today they will be working to install a similar system in the North McDonald Lake area.

Yesterday local county cooperators finished their work in the Lake McDonald Lodge area and returned to their home stations. They will be available should the need arise. Lake McDonald area complex structures were wet down and sprinklers and hoses are running around the facilities to make them more defensible. Firefighters are gridding and mopping up around the Sperry Chalet complex.

An evacuation ORDER is in place.

Area residents and Park visitors were evacuated last Sunday.The evacuation order remains in effect from the south end of Lake McDonald north to Logan Pass.This includes the North McDonald Road. This does not include the Apgar area at this time. Logan Pass is still accessible from the east side of the Park. The duration of the evacuation is unknown at this time.

Because of the high pressure system, dense smoke is enveloping Lake McDonald. You can monitor current conditions on the Park's webcams at

http://go.nps.gov/glacwebcams

.

Adair Peak Fire Information.

The Adair Peak fire was started by lightning on August 12, 2017.Glacier National Park fire managers have been monitoring the fire which is now at 1375 acres. The fire is burning in a remote area of the park on the south side of Logging Lake. Fire managers expect the fire behavior to moderate as this fire enters old fire scars. Firefighters are implementing structure protection around the historic cabins located at either end of Logging Lake.

Most areas of the Park remain OPEN.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road between St. Mary and Logan Pass, Granite Park Chalet, Two Medicine, St. Mary, Many Glacier, and Goat Haunt are currently open. Please check the Park website for closure information and current conditions at

https://nps.gov/glac

Updated 9:15 AM

On the East Fork Fire, the Hill County Sheriff has lifted the evacuation order on Sucker Creek Road and Taylor Road allowing property owners to return to the area. Sucker Creek Road has been opened to local residents; the public is urged to stay out of the area due to heavy equipment and emergency personnel still working in the area. Highway 234 will remain closed from Taylor Road South. Beaver Creek Park and all side roads within the park remain closed to recreation.

At this time, the majority of the fire is contained, and not expected to spread. Other parts of the fire still have heat and work is underway to secure these areas of the fire. There are no operational needs for conducting additional burn outs on the perimeter, nor the interior of the fire. The fire is 85% contained at this time, and good progress towards full containment is being made.

Work has started and continues on fire line rehabilitation. Blaine and Hill Counties are making plans regarding the process and timelines for rehab of dozer lines.

Updated 9:03 AM

Making their first appearance on InciWeb today are the Green Ridge Complex of six fires, burning in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, near Spot Mountain. They are located approximately 4 miles southwest of Paradise, 28 miles west of West Fork Ranger District. A few of these fires burned together, creating the largest of the fires, the Eagle fire, at 1,988 acres. Total acres for the complex is 2,222 acres. These fires were started by lightning. Flames have made their way to within 1/3 of a mile to Spot Mountain lookout, therefore firefighters wrapped Spot Mountain lookout with flame resistant material.They are also doing structure assessment from Running Creek Ranch to Paradise, also Paradise to Magruder Crossing. The Incident Management Team overseeing the Nelson fire, is also managing this complex of fires. Due to limited resources, and the fact that these fires are far from values at risk, there are 15 firefighters assigned to this complex.

Updated 8:52 a.m.

There's a new video update on the Rice Ridge Fire here.

Rice Ridge Fire narrative from InciWeb: Active fire movement will continue late into the evening due to poor humidity recovery and strong thermal belts. Very active fire behavior expected as weather conditions continue to be hot and dry with the return to a westerly flow. Uphill runs with spotting will be possible with single and group torching likely. Fire will continue to aggressively back toward Hwy 83 and the community of Seeley Lake and surrounding area. This fire behavior is expected along all flanks of the fire.

Tomorrow winds will be terrain driven mainly with some westerly gusts around 20mph on the ridge tops. Temperatures will rise back into the mid and upper 80s with humidity below 20% for the first time in a few days. The Haines index jumps back up to a 5 and is being driven by instability with smoke factors being a wildcard for the forecast.

Updated 8:50 a.m.

Yesterday, the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office announced that the Caribou Fire has claimed 10 homes and 30 outbuildings. In West Kootenai, fire crews improved the fireline to the west and north, while building a contingency fireline to the south. Overnight, firefighters patrolled the fireline and searched for spot fires. Fire crews also monitored fire conditions in the Basin Creek area, southwest of the fire, where structure protection measures have been put in place.

Today, structure protection crews will use heavy equipment to improve the fireline southeast and north of West Kootenai, and extend the southern contingency fireline south of the community. Firefighters will continue night patrols to protect homes. Additional ground and air resources have been assigned to the fire, but aircraft will not be able to resume operations until smoke clears and visibility improves.

Caribou Evacuations: A full Evacuation Order is in effect for West Kootenai area north of Tooley Lake.

A Pre-evacuation Warning is in effect for the West Kootenai area south of Tooley Lake, and the Basin Creek area.

Caribou Fire Closures: A Closure Order is in place for the Caribou Fire .

Gibralter Ridge Fire: Yesterday's cooler weather slowed the fire's gradual movement down the steep slope into the Williams Creek drainage, and northeast toward Jiggs Creek. Structure protection measures to have been completed to protect homes along Grave Creek. Firefighters continue mop-up, while patrolling and monitoring the fire's gradual growth into the Williams Creek and Jiggs Creek drainages.

Gibralter Ridge Evacuations: A Pre-Evacuation Warning remains in effect for the Sherman Creek, Griffith Creek, Therriault Pass Road, Stevens Creek, Glen Lake and Sinclair Creek (south/east of West Road) areas.

Gibralter Ridge Closures: Grave Creek Road and the Ten Lakes Recreation area are closed above the Grave Creek/Foothills Road junction.

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