Montana Wildfire Roundup For September 5, 2017

Sep 5, 2017
Originally published on September 5, 2017 5:20 pm

The Sprague Fire, which prompted an evacuation order over the weekend that included the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park, has grown to nearly 13,500 acres. With assistance from Flathead County firefighters yesterday and today, the park’s fire management team is fortifying defenses for the historic century-old Lodge.

Diane Sine is a spokeswoman for the Sprague fire.

"They have sprinklers in place. They were covering the vents and trying to take care of the structure itself."

Sine says the high winds which contributed to this weekend’s increased fire activity are predicted to be pretty still for the next few days.

"That’s in our favor as far as that smoke cover probably keeping our temperatures down just a couple of degrees. But then the challenge with that is of course air quality. It is going to be smoky. That’s going to affect visibility and that does have the potential to impact our ability to have aircraft get in there on the fire."

An evacuation order remains in effect from the south end of Lake McDonald north to Logan Pass, 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.

Rice Ridge Fire

After doubling in size this past weekend, the Rice Ridge Fire burning near Seeley Lake has now scorched 108,000 acres.

The Missoula County Sheriff has Tuesday evening downgraded evacuation orders to evacuation warnings for approximately 429 homes affected by the Rice Ridge Fire. Areas now under evacuation warnings extend east from Highway 83 with the northern border being Cedar Street and the Southern border being Whitetail. Included streets are Cedar, School Lane, Locust, Redwood, the north side of Whitetail to Timberland, Morrell Creek Drive, Pine, Oak, Elm, Spruce, Larch, Juniper, Tamarack, Sequoia Court, Fir Drive, Cottonwood, Badger Court, Chipmunk, Lynx, Laurel, Cougar, Black Bear Court, Wild Turkey, Perch, Bass Court, Crawfish, and Salmon. This includes Seeley Lake Elementary School and Seeley Swan High School.

Residents here should still be ready to evacuate quickly should fire conditions change.

The fire had forced the evacuation of most of the town and postponed the start of the school year by a week. Classes for Seeley-Swan High School students started today at the Resort at Paws Up near Greenough, about 22 miles south of Seeley Lake.

There is a community meeting about the Rice Ridge Fire tonight at the Ovando Elementary School Gym at 6 p.m.

Caribou Fire

The Caribou Fire burning near the town of West Kootenai on the Canadian border has destroyed at least 10 homes. The Lincoln County Sheriff confirmed that Monday night.

Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe told a crowd of 300 people at a fire meeting in Eureka Monday night that officers went door-to-door Friday to alert 420 residents in West Kootenai about increased activity on the Caribou Fire. He said by Saturday morning, the whole town was under a pre-evacuation warning.

"It was very intimidating and scary, and if it wasn't for the combination of border patrol Forest Service and Fish and Game, we would have definitely lost some lives in that."

The Caribou Fire made a staggering run of four and a half miles over the course of several hours Saturday. Bowe says evacuation warnings and orders changed by the hour as officers circled back to alert people about the evacuation order. He says some had less than 30 minutes to leave.

In an interview after the meeting, Bowe said at least 10 homes and up to 30 structures had been lost. That number could rise as the count is finalized.

"For the speed it was going, and what we were up against, I don’t think we couldn't have done any better. I'm sure people will disagree with that, but far as managing people, and getting them out of there safely, no one hurt yet, I don't think we could ask for anything more."

The Caribou Fire is estimated to be nearly 17,000 acres with 10 percent containment. Fire managers say they have limited resources to fight this fire and have 12 outstanding requests for more.

Alice Creek Fire

At the Alice Creek Fire northeast of Lincoln, calm winds and cooler temperatures today allowed firefighters to construct a new containment line west of Highway 200. A few days ago the firefighters had achieved 5 percent containment, but then a cold front earlier this week nearly doubled the size of the fire. Unfortunately, Information Officer Robyn Broyles doesn’t expect today's favorable conditions to last.

"We’re doing everything we can to take advantage of the calmer weather."

Firefighters used bulldozers and fire to set up the new containment lines, which should help keep the fire from spreading farther south and east. Approximately 90 residents from three subdivisions and the Alice Creek Basin and Tom Gulch areas are still under evacuation orders.

Evacuation orders remain in effect for the Landers Fork, Elk Trail, Elk Meadows/Evergreen Subdivisions, as well as the Alice Creek Basin and Tom’s Gulch areas. There are approximately 90 residents affected by the evacuation orders. The Dearborn Canyon residents have not received a pre-evacuation notice; however, they should be ready to leave, if conditions rapidly change.

Highway 200 Complex

An inversion layer settled over the fire area yesterday and kept smoke low on all the fires within the Highway 200 Complex. It is anticipated that fire activity remained low due to the inversion and smoke, however, due to the heavy smoke the aircraft were unable to fly the fires to observe fire activity. Structure protection and holding existing containment lines continues to be the priority. Opportunities to directly engage the fires continue to be limited due to a shortage of resources and extreme fire behavior.

Evacuations remain in place near Sheep Gap Fire from the end of River Road to Arnold Road, at the corner of Section 11. All residents in the Plains, Thompson Falls, and Trout Creek areas should note that conditions are dynamic and will likely change quickly over the next few days. Please have an evacuation plan in place NOW for what you would do in the event of an emergency. Wildfires can grow very quickly and you may receive little to no notice before an evacuation takes place. If you feel concerned for your welfare, don’t wait to be told to leave – practice self-evacuations.

Weather and limited firefighting resources continue to challenge firefighting operations. The inversion layer is expected to remain today and keep heavy smoke and fire activity low. Firefighters will continue looking for opportunities for indirect lines and to strengthen existing containment lines. The dryness of fuels available to burn continue to set record levels for the area.

Community Meeting: A Highway 200 Complex Fires Community Meeting is scheduled for September 5 at 6 p.m. in Thompson Falls at the Community Center. Fire personnel and local officials will be there to provide updates on the fires and the status of pre-evacuations and evacuations.

Lolo Peak Fire

The inversion hampered air operations on the fire but with use of satellite imagery and detection, hot spots were detected in areas where the fire was actively burning on the west side of the fire and in the North Fork of Sweeney Creek. Areas prepared for burnout operations in Sweeney Creek were successfully burned. With no air support available firefighters improvised and used available trucks with spray units to apply retardant directly on the ground in preparation for future burn operations. Suppression repair work continues on the north side of the fire. Structure assessments are being completed in the St. Mary’s and Indian Prairie areas along Highway 93 south of South Kootenai Creek Road as well as in the Graves Creek area along Highway 12 west of Bear Creek. Members of the National Guard are present to support the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Department in providing security at the existing road blocks.

The Evacuation Order has been lifted for the Sweeney Creek, Larry Creek and Bass Creek North areas of the Lolo Peak Fire.

Please do not stop along the highways to view fire activity. It creates a significant traffic hazard, impedes firefighter traffic, and impacts the safety of firefighters and citizens.

East Fork Fire

The Hill County Sheriff’s Department 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.

A public meeting will be held at the Chippewa Cree Vo-Tech Center on Tuesday, September 5 at 4 p.m.

The Blaine County public meeting will be at the Bear Paw School on Wednesday, September 6, at 4 p.m.

Yesterday firefighters patrolled the northwest and southeast edges of the fire to verify no threats to the line existed and those areas are now contained. Crews located and suppressed smoldering, heavy fuels in the Clear Creek area and continued mop up in Little Box Elder and Mooney Creek around structures. Helicopter water drops were used to suppress hotspots in Miners Gulch. In areas that are fully contained, suppression repair was started. Night shift engines continued to patrol the fire line to insure the lines held.

Sapphire Complex

Monday, the 34,000 acre Little Hogback Fire grew actively along the north-central perimeter and continued to spread on the southwestern fire perimeter, in the upper end of Windlass Gulch. Although fire managers are hoping to hold the fire there, they have assessed three potential contingency lines if the fire continues to advance. Mop up operations are continuing on the east side of the fire, and crews are performing suppression repair where it is practical to do so. Crews continued to provide point protection for structures along Rock Creek Road and helicopters aided firefighters by cooling hot spots in the remote terrain. Structure protection measures (including extensive hoselays) are still in place along Rock Creek Road. Preventing fire growth toward homes and ranches continues to dictate operational priorities, and protection of life is always the primary objective.

An evacuation order for approximately 35 residences along Rock Creek Road remains in effect, beginning from and including Wild Rose Loop south to Stony Creek.

Flathead County

Flathead County commissioners issued a declaration of emergency today due to fire danger.

The declaration authorizes the Flathead County Sheriff to compel evacuations, control traffic toward and from emergency areas, and close wildland areas during periods of extreme fire danger. It also allows emergency managers to spend funds from a special firefighting budget. The county administrator says there’s roughly $260,000 in that fund.

Flathead County declared a state of emergency in 2015 due to wildland fires that year.

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