Ahorn Fire Now 14,900 Acres

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Two fires in west-central Montana were burning in such rough terrain that fire crews planned to use explosives to create fire line on one, while the other was being fought from the air.

The Ahorn fire, burning out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness into other parts of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, grew by more than 6,000 acres Monday and Tuesday, to a total of 14,900 acres.

Most of the burning happened Monday after an inversion lifted at 2 p.m., said Maggie Craig, fire information officer. On Tuesday, winds blew from the west, moving the fire toward Gibson Reservoir to the northeast.

“It was a slower day today,” fire information officer Jean Wiphnell said Tuesday night. “Humidities were higher, and temperatures were lower. It gave us a greater chance to get in there and get some work done on it.”

Fire crews have put protective wrapping around the Pretty Prairie Cabin on the northeastern side of the fire, the Indian point cabins on the northwest corner of the fire and two pack bridges in the area.

“Pumps and sprinklers were previously installed,” Craig said. “Those are running.”

Crews have two helicopters and 10 engines for structure protection in the Gibson Reservoir and Benchmark areas.

Fire crews were trying to find a spot to set explosives to create a fire line along some of the edges of the fire where it’s less active.

“The territory is too dangerous for hand crews,” said Bob Bayer, fire information officer. “You can’t dig in rock. They’re not doing a whole lot of line construction in some of that country, it’s just too rough.”

To the southeast, the Meriwether fire has burned more than 2,000 acres and led to the closure of the 28,000-acre Gates of the Mountains Wilderness on the east side of the Missouri River. The closure includes the Coulter Campground.

The lightning-caused fire was spreading south into Coulter and Fields gulches, said fire information officer Amy Teegarden. A forest service cabin about 1/4 mile above the Meriwether Day Use Area was wrapped, as well.

“Due to the unsafe firefighting conditions, we have a limited number of firefighters assigned to this fire,” Teegarden said. “The location that the fire’s burning is very dense fuel, very steep and rocky.

“Basically we’re going to have to fight this fire by air or wait for it to come to us at a safe location,” she said. “The Helena area can expect to see a lot of smoke from this fire over the next few weeks.”

Teegarden said Tuesday afternoon that the Gates of the Mountains boat tours were still operating and the campgrounds along Holter Lake managed by the Bureau of Land Management remained open.

“And we are still allowing boat traffic along the Missouri,” she said.

In southwestern Montana, fire managers on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest are banning all open fires, starting Thursday, due to increased fire danger. Smoking is restricted to vehicles and clear areas only and the operation of chain saws, other engines, and welding is limited to 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. under the Stage 2 fire restrictions.

The Pattengail fire had burned 4,256 acres; containment was estimated at 25 percent.

“It’s actually been very quiet today,” fire information officer Erin Fryer said Tuesday. “Humidity levels are coming up, and with overcast skies, fire activity is pretty low right now.

“We have some moisture coming from the monsoonal weather in the southwest,” she said.

Two helicopters were pulling water from Stones Lakes near the fire, and crews were focusing on structure protection along the Highway 43 corridor.

“No structures are threatened at this time,” Fryer said. “It’s purely precautionary.”

About 150,000 acres of the 3.3 million acre forest remained closed Tuesday. The closed area was north of Lacy and McVey creeks and west of the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, to the forest boundary east and south of Highway 43.

In Yellowstone National Park, a thunderstorm caused a backcountry fire just north of the Montana-Wyoming border to triple in size Monday afternoon.

The Owl fire grew from 300 acres to an estimated 1,200 acres in a matter of hours, park officials said Tuesday. It has crossed Specimen Creek and continues to spread to the north.

Firefighters were able to resume helicopter bucket drops Tuesday.

The lightning-caused fire, discovered Friday, is burning in the northwest corner of the park, away from roads and developed areas.

A highly trained “type 2” management team was scheduled to take control of the blaze Wednesday morning, allowing Yellowstone staff to focus on any new fires in the park, Yellowstone officials said. That includes the 540-acre Beaver Dam fire burning in the backcountry near the southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake.

Park officials said some trails and backcountry campsites near the Owl fire are temporarily closed, but there are no closures in the area of the Beaver Dam fire. All visitor services, park entrances and roads remain open.