Jocko Lakes Fire Calms, 37 Homes Evacuated Near Bitterroot Blaze

By Beacon Staff

While some Montana fires, including the Jocko Lakes Fire near Seeley Lake, calmed Monday, winds hit blazes in the Bitterroot Valley, pushing the Tin Cup Fire near Darby to the south, forcing the evacuation of 37 homes.

The National Weather Service in Missoula had issued a red flag warning for Monday with gusts up to 40 mph expected.

Tin Cup Fire, West of Darby

The Tin Cup Fire about 2 1/2 miles west of Darby in the Bitteroot Valley got hit with strong winds Monday and pushed south toward the Tin Cup Road, forcing the evacuations of 37 homes.

Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman said 31 homes were evacuated on the side of the fire nearest to the Bunkhouse area and on the other side, in the Tin Cup area, six other homes were evacuated. Also on that side, 47 residences were put on evacuation warning, Hoffman said.

The fire popped up Sunday and quickly ran to 375 acres.

Firefighters were pulled off the lines for safety reasons Monday, but returned later in the day. The winds came from the north and by afternoon, the southeast side of the fire was between Tin Cup Creek and the Tin Cup Road.

Evacuation notices were issued on Cerro Gordo Road, Camp 4 Road and Tin Cup Road from Singing Pines Road north. Bunkhouse Road, Almosta Road, and Stags Leap Road, and Snowy Mountain Road were also evacuated after being warned of the possibility Sunday. Moose Meadow Lane, Elk Range Way, Base Camp Road, Ravenwood Roads and Northstar Drive were all on evacuation notice and told to be ready to evacuate should the fire grow. Residents will be notified by a uniformed law enforcement officer if their residences are under advisory. Ravalli County has also set up an evacuation hotline at 406-375-6650.

Air tankers and single-engine air tankers dropped retardant on the fire all day Monday and three helicopters were dropping water. Crews were aggressively fighting the east and north sides fire, building fire lines by hand with dozers. There are 80 firefighters on scene with a Type 2 incident management team on its way Tuesday. Firefighters from the nearby Rombo Mountain Fire, were also called over to the Tin Cup Fire Monday to help.

For more on the Tin Cup Fire and other Bitterroot blazes go to http://63.196.254.151/WildWeb/WCMT-BRC.htm and click “recent incidents.”

Jocko Lakes Fire, west of Seeley Lake

The Jocko Lakes Fire, which blew up Saturday, burning at least one home and damaging another and running to 18,000 acres, has been relatively quiet Monday. Over the weekend, it forced at least 675 houses to be evacuated near Placid Lake. Subdivisions of the Seeley Lake community have been evacuated, but not the town itself. Click here for the full story. It quickly became the top priority fire in the nation and attracted FEMA’s attention.

Skyland Fire, near Essex

The Skyland Fire, burning near Glacier to the south-southeast between Badger Creek and Two Medicine Creek, escaped control lines Monday under strong winds. The area north of BIA 2, between the South Fork of the Medicine River and BIA 1 to Two Medicine River are still evacuated but no new evacuations were ordered Monday.

Sunday, the fire gave firefighters a break and crews completed an 800-acre burnout on the east end of the fire in the South Fork Two Medicine River area. Fire information officer Dave Warriner said the burnout might be a “turning point” for the 900-plus firefighters working what’s been an unruly blaze. By Monday night, although it had grown 1,260 acres to 33,430 acres, it was listed as 40 percent contained.

Fire officials say the east and west ends are in pretty good shape now, which operations personnel called “bookends” on the fire. There is still open line on the south side, but there are no residences on that side. Cattle were still being retrieved from the north and south ends fo the fire.

Officials are expecting high winds, from the southeast, to roll in Tuesday and possibly some more lightning. “It’s going to be a good test for us,” Warriner said.

Besides the evacuation order mentioned above, there are warnings and notices around the fire for residents. The are as follows. Stage 2, (evacuation warning): The area west of the South Fork Two Medicine River south of BIA 2 and south of U.S. Hwy 2. Also the area east of BIA 1 north of Heart Butte to the Two Medicine River. Level 1 (on notice to get ready for possible evacuation): The area north of the junction of BIA 2 and U.S. Hwy 2, north to and including East Glacier.

The fire is now 19 miles long. The most easterly reach of the fire is to Deep Creek Drainage on the Blackfeet Reservation, and to Mule Ridge to the west near Skyland Road.

Highway 2 is still open to traffic going both ways.

Sawmill Complex, east of Missoula

The Sawmill Complex, a complex of three fires near Rock Creek and 22 miles southeast of Missoula, grew again over the weekend to a total 10,340 acres, but it was cooled a bit by rain Sunday. The largest fire is still the Wyman 2 fire, mapped at 7,290 Sunday.

On the Wyman 2 fire, evacuations are in place along Rock Creek Road between the Sandstone/Wyman trailhead and Stony Creek as well as in the Williams Gulch and Wild Rose Loop.

On the 1,570-acre Sawmill Fire, evacuations were ordered for ten structures in the Bear Gulch Area on Saturday, while residences on Rock Creek Road from Norton Campground to one-half mile south of Brewster Creek were evacuated the day before. There, more engines are on their way to the fire to “assist the preparation for the fire’s approach to structures and Rock Creek,” according to Sunday reports.

The Fisher Point fire in the complex has blackened 1,480 acres, but is unstaffed as most of the resources have gone to the Wyman 2 and the Sawmill fires.

In total, there are 418 people working the complex with 26 engines, 9 water tenders and 2 helicopters. It has cost $1,255,000 so far to fight.

Meriwether Fire, north of Helena

The Meriwether Fire near Wolf Creek north of Helena is burning within the Gates of the Mountain Wilderness, and it quieted over the weekend after an active week, fire information officer Bonney McNabb said.

“We were really lucky,” she said.

The fire is mapped at 39,500 acres and by Monday, it was estimated at 45 percent contained. The northwest flank of the fire, near Holter Lake, is holding well and both the Beartooth road and the Beaver Creek road were reopened to residents Saturday, with all evacuations lifted except for about 20 structures along Beaver Creek Road. Other residents have been warned to be ready at a moment’s notice to evacuate.

In turn, the seven mile stretch of the Missouri River between American Bar and Ming Bar, previously closed, has reopened. But Holter Lake is now closed while “super scooper” planes draw water to dump on the blaze.

Ahorn Fire, West of Augusta

After the Ahorn Fire’s substantial growth over the last week the weekend looked downright quiet.

The fire, burning in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Lewis and Clark National Forest 30 miles west of Augusta mostly just smoldered and “punked around” in the interior, said fire liason Warren Templeton. Higher humidity and a thick inversion kept the fire from growing from it’s estimated 43,900 acres. It remains 2 percent contained.

Most of the recent growth has been eastward, nearing Allan Mountain. The fire also pushed up the Goat Creek drainage on the northeast flank.

The fire did spot near the Sheep Shed area on the southeast side of the fire Sunday afternoon and helicopters dropped water on hot spots to slow the spread of the fire into the K Bar L Ranch to the northeast of the fire and the Game and Fish Cabin on the west side of Gibson Reservoir. Crews also continued working on a contingency line along Sawtooth Ridge on the Sun River Game Range and north toward the Deep Creek Ranch.

Evacuations remain in place for the Gibson Reservoir area, Stoner area, and Benchmark, where structure protection crews are working on summer lease cabins, homes and ranch properties.

Crews took advantage of the cooler fire weather on Sunday to make “good progress” on structure protection around the Stoner area, according to reports. They also were able to finish a fire line around the structures there.

To the South of of the fire, there are a number of structures, including about 65 summer lease cabins in the Benchmark area. There, structure protection crews continue to run hose lines and sprinkler systems into the cabins to protect them should the fire move south.

The rapid growth of both the Ahorn and the Fool Creek Fires prompted officials on the Lewis and Clark National Forest to close a large part of the Rocky Mountain Ranger District to the public. The closure went into effect early Thursday morning. Click here for a recent list of closures.

Region-by-Region breakdown:

Also, check in often to InciWeb, where the large fires are being updated from fire camp regularly. The large fires with InciWeb pages are linked in the roundup below. Click on the name of the fire for that fire’s page.

For a look at fire weather forecasts, click here and for a national breakdown of wildland fires, click here.

Stage II fire restrictions, meaning no campfires, smoking, daytime industrial operations and motor vehicle use off designated roads and trails, are in effect across western and west-central Montana. Click here for more details.

Western Montana:

The Jocko Lakes Fire has erupted, growing from 800 to about 18,000 acres by Monday, forcing the evacuation of at least 675 homes near Placid Lake and Seeley Lake. Click here for the full story on the Jocko Lakes blaze.

Other noteworthy Fires in Western Montana:

  • The Rombo Fire, on the Bitterroot National Forest, got the same winds the Tin Cup fire did Monday and grew to 2,000 acres. A Type II team took over the management of the fire Saturday. A pre-evacuation order is in place for residents of the road going to Painted Rock Lake, between the Rombo Creek Campground and Forest Service Road 5715. They should be prepared to leave if the blaze shifts to the west, said information officer Gail Baer.
  • The Conger Creek Fire, Lolo National Forest, 20 miles north of Ovando along Highway 200. 5,000 acres, being managed as a Wildand Fire Use fire and monitored, not actively suppressed. (Click here to learn more about Wildand Fire Use.)
  • The Mile Marker 124 Fire, north of Interstate 90 near the Rock Creek exit was quiet over the weekend and by Sunday night was 80 percent contained. The incident commander met with homeowners in the West Fork of Cramer Creek and the lower Cramer Creek area and let them return to their homes by permit only and with some restrictions. Residents in the Wallace Creek area are still on 12 to 36 hour notification in case they are asked to leave. But, the Mile Marker 124 Fire “hasn’t moved in three days,” fire information officer Laura McConnell said Sunday. The fire is holding at 6,231 acres. A Bonneville Power Administration transmission line, along I-90 that carries electricity to thousands, appears now to be out of danger, McConnell said.

    Officials are looking for more information on the cause of the Mile Marker 124 Fire, ignited by multiple starts along the westbound lane of I-90, three miles east of Clinton. Investigators ruled out lightning and believe the cause may have been mechanical or vehicular malfunction. Call (406) 542-4241 if you have any information.

Northwestern Montana:

  • The Chippy Creek Fire The Chippy Creek Fire (formerly named “Semem Creek”), 42 miles southwest of Kalispell grew dramatically Saturday, doubling in size. The blaze now totals nearly 40,000 acres after quieting a bit on Sunday, thanks to a thick layer of smoke that kept the fire close to the ground. Aircraft have not been able to monitor the fire’s spread but may do so if the inversion lifts. On the east end and of the fire crews are using bulldozers to construct containment lines on the Flathead Reservation. Crews are focusing on structure protection to the north and the east of the fire where nearly 350 homes are within seven miles of the blaze.

    Roads are closed near the fire area. Public meeting planned for Monday, August 6, at 6:00pm at the Hot Springs Public Schools old gymnasium located at 301 Broadway Street in Hot Springs.

  • The Garceau Fire, 10 miles from Polson on the Flathead Indian Reservation, had burned a total of 3,045 acres by Friday morning, 93 percent contained.
  • The Skyland Fire in the Flathead National Forest totals 30,457 acres.
  • The Brush Creek Fire, about 29 air miles west of Whitefish, MT, grew about another 1,500 acres by Monday to 18,927 acres. It is up to 7 percent contained with a target containment date set for August 30. The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office has issued a mandatory evacuation order for the community of Star Meadow. The Good Creek Community has been put on warning to be ready should it need to evacuate. Monday evening reports said the fire is moving down drainage to Good Creek and has potential to reach residences in Good Creek within 24 hours. If the fire continues to progress towards the community, an evacuation order may be issued.

Southwestern Montana:

Lightning, dry air and high winds “conspired to fan two new fires to life” over the weekend on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest this weekend, according to Sunday reports. Both fires, one five miles southwest of the McAtee Bridge and another five miles southwest of Wise River were controlled by Sunday.

The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has a temporary closure in effect, including the area north of Lacy and McVey creeks and west of the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway all the way to the forest boundary east and south of Highway 43.

Noteworthy Fires in Southwestern Montana:

  • The Pattengail Creek Fire, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest 10 miles northeast of Wisdom. 3,900 acres, 25 percent contained. Influenced by changing weather, the fire got more active over the weekend, throwing two separate spots on the eastern flank. The heavy helicopter lent to the fire Saturday, doused these new spots with water, until it was called back to Idaho to respond as initial attack on new fires there. The high gusty winds late yesterday afternoon blew these two spots together. An flyover late in the day showed new spot fires on the western side of Stine Mountain. Three spot fires have been growing on the north side of Effie Creek, north of the main fire. The heavy helicopter has been requested to return today to help retard the growth of the spot fires.
  • The Porcupine Fire, Gallatin National Forest, 124 acres at 20 percent contained. 31 miles north of Livingston. Creeping fire activity was reported.
  • The Owl Fire, burning along the Wyoming-Montana border in Yellowstone National Park, is 2,810 acres and 90 percent contained. Significant rain fell on the fire over the weekend and the fire’s management has been handed back over to the park. At one time, more than 400 people were assigned to the Owl Fire. All outside fire resources have been released for rest and reassignment to other fires.
  • Rain also fell this weekend on the Beaverdam Fire, near the Southeast Arm of Yellowstone Lake deep in the backcountry. It is being managed as a Wildland Fire Use for Resource Benefit, since it is good for the ecosystem and doesn’t pose a threat to people or property, according to park service reports. It remains at an estimated 748 acres.

Central Montana:

  • Ahorn Fire, Lewis and Clark National Forest, 35 miles West of Augusta, near Benchmark. 43,900 acres.
  • The Fool Creek Fire, in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, in Bob Marshall Wilderness put up a plume of smoke Monday and was burning actively on the west side of Porcupine Creek. The fire, now 31,3442 acres is about a one mile west of the Teton Pass ski area, according to Monday evening reports.

    Structure protection measures have been taken at the Massey Tract, 7 Lazy P Ranch and Teton Pass Ski Area and firefighters got pumps and sprinklers running at Sabado and Wrong Creek Cabins. While there are five engines, two water tenders, and three helicopters along with a crew of 154 working the fire.

    With west winds bringing a drying and warming trend, firefighters expect the Fool Creek fire to get more active in coming days. Hotter, drier weather is expected Tuesday. Under these explosively dry conditions, there’s still no opportunity for firefighters on the ground to effectively work on the fire. So for now, the strategy is to slow the fire with water and retardant dropped from the air. The fire is 0 percent contained and a containment target has been set for Oct. 31.

  • Middle Fork Fire, Lewis and Clark National Forest, Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area, 20 miles southwest of Utica. 1,146 acres and 90 percent contained. This fire is also being managed as a Wildland Fire Use fire and is burning in a remote area. It was started on June 21 by a lightning strike.

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