Updated: 8:45 p.m., July 9
Record-breaking heat and tinderbox conditions are fueling large fires across Northwest Montana, and residents near Rogers Mountain west of Kalispell and the Thompson River area are being warned about rapid fire behavior.
The Lazier Creek Fire, burning south of U.S. Highway 2 and Middle Thompson Lake, ballooned from 40 acres to more than 400 on Sunday afternoon and is actively burning in grass, brush and timber. A smoke column was visible in Kalispell in the afternoon.
Pre-evacuation notices have been issued for the area of Bend Ranger Station, according to fire officials.
West of Kalispell, the Rogers Fire north of U.S. Highway 2 and Loon Lake was started in the drainage east of Rogers Mountain and has burned more than 50 acres by Sunday evening. The fire grew rapidly Sunday afternoon amid high temperatures in dry brush and timber. Fire managers are recommending pre-evacuation orders for residents in the Whispering Pines neighborhood near Happy’s Inn, according to officials.
Several helicopters and crews are responding to the blaze, which has become a regional priority, and a Type II incident command team is slated to assume control early Monday. Wind is pushing the fire south toward the highway, according to fire officials.
“It’s making a run right now. It’s getting pushed toward structures and homes north of U.S. Highway 2,” Ali Ulwelling, DNRC spokesperson, said Sunday afternoon.
Heavy air tankers have been ordered along with two large scooper aircraft, she said.
“Demand for resources is high, but this has become a priority fire,” she said.
There is a two-stage process for evacuations. The first stage is informing residents to prepare for potential evacuation orders, and if the situation worsens, authorities will enact an evacuation.
The fire remains a few miles from any structures, she said.
Ulwelling said the situation is unfolding rapidly and will provide additional information when it becomes available.
Thunderstorms that swept Northwest Montana Friday afternoon resulted in several new lightning fires actively burning between Kalispell and Libby.
Among the largest fires in the region, an 80-acre blaze is burning near Lazier Creek near Plains. The Rogers Mountain Fire near Libby has burned more than 40 acres. The Grubb Mountain Fire, also near Libby, has burned more than 11 acres.
Other fires range in size from one-tenth of an acre up to 7 acres.
Firefighting resources, including engines and helicopters, are stretched thin at this time but are working hard to contain the new starts, according to Ali Ulwelling, wildfire prevention, education and information specialist with Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The DNRC has responded to 16 fires in the last 48 hours on state lands in Northwest Montana, Ulwelling said.
“The fuels are very receptive (to fire danger),” Ulwelling said.
The Flathead National Forest has elevated its fire danger to “high” as hot, dry conditions persist across the region.
Interagency fire managers are asking the public to be aware of dry brush and grass, hotter-than-average weather forecasted for next week, and the real potential for wildfires to grow quickly.
Below-average rainfall, wind and warm weather in June resulted in dry forest fuels and more fires than average in June and the first week of July, Ulwelling said. Kalispell set a record on July 8 after hitting 96 degrees, breaking the previous record of 94 degrees set in 1964.
Each year about 80 percent of wildfires in the Flathead area are human-caused, Ulwelling said.
Tips for preventing fires:
— Never leave your campfire unattended. Have a bucket of water and a shovel on hand and make sure your campfire is cold to the touch before leaving.
— If pulling a boat or camper trailer, adjust chains so that they are not touching the ground. Dragging chains produce sparks that may ignite grassfires along roadsides.
— Avoid driving or parking hot vehicles in dry grass.
— And last, just a reminder that NO debris burning is allowed during the months of July, August, and September due to fire season. Typically, escaped and illegal debris burns are one of the top causes of wildfires in the Flathead area.