CHOTEAU (AP) _ A wildfire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area west of here, sparked by lightning, has grown to roughly 3,100 acres, a forest ranger said late Friday afternoon.
“We expected the perimeter to grow, and based on the amount of smoke that it’s producing, it’s continuing to grow,” said Mike Munoz, district ranger for the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain District in Choteau.
Officials on the Lewis and Clark National Forest decided to observe the wilderness fire but won’t actively intervene at this point, he said.
“We’re pretty much preparing for a long-term event,” Munoz told The Associated Press.
The fire area saw temperatures in the 90s, low relative humidity and up to 25 mph winds on Friday.
“That’s been making the fire pretty active,” said Wendy Maples, a fire information officer with the Forest Service.
The Fool Creek fire forced Forest Service officials to reroute hikers, travelers, campers and outfitters in the area. The fire in the North Fork Sun River Drainage, near Sun River Pass, was reported late Wednesday afternoon, Munoz said.
Firefighting crews are unable to reach the blaze because of limited landing areas and dense timber, Munoz told the Great Falls Tribune. And spraying retardants or using huge buckets to pour water on the blaze from the air appears to be useless at this time, he said.
Maples added that forest officials are developing a management plan focused on keeping the fire within the wilderness area.
“What we do will depend on what the fire does and where it is and what it’s threatening,” Maples said. “We’re trying to stress to people that we’re not just sitting back and watching. We are actively monitoring this fire.”
Maples said they suspect the fire was caused by a lightning strike during a June 28 storm and smoldered until hot, dry conditions, coupled with the typical high winds on the Rocky Mountain Front caused it to blow up.
“There’s no reason to think it’s anything other than a lightning strike,” Maples told the Independent Record newspaper in Helena. “It’s in dense, heavy timber with extensive deadfall. It’s put up thick smoke because it’s burning in lodgepole and fir.”
The fire is burning on the Lewis and Clark National Forest and part of the Flathead National Forest. The only structures threatened, Munoz said, are two Forest Service cabins: the Wrong Creek Cabin in the North Fork of the Sun River; and the Gooseberry Cabin in the Middle Fork Flathead drainage.
Forest crews were working to fireproof the two cabins Friday, the district ranger said.
Officials said conditions are ripe for the Fool Creek fire to continue growing over the next few days.
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