Jocko Lakes Fire Expands

By Beacon Staff

SEELEY LAKE – The Jocko Lakes Fire near Seeley Lake acted up again Wednesday, spreading again on the fire’s new trouble spot – the northeast flank.

There, Dogtown, a subdivision of Seeley Lake, is threatened and crews were pulled off other sides of the fire to help combat the growth.

The fire is now estimated at 16,900 acres, 1,900 more acres than estimates from Wednesday morning. And, “it’s growing right as we speak,” incident commander Glen McNitt said Wednesday night.

As the fire spread northeast, the incident command team on the fire was with out two of its “super scooper” CL-215 airplanes, which have been a big help to crews in securing fire line over the last few days.

“During that time, that was a critical time, when it crossed the line,” McNitt said.

Fire information officer Andy Sheetz said the two planes were down for mechanical repairs.

The fire had not yet reached Boy Scout Road, which runs along the west shore of Seeley Lake. Boy Scout Road is the trigger point for evacuating the town of Seeley Lake. If the fire hits it, “that’s the time when we would evacuate the rest of town,” fire information officer Pat Cross said Tuesday. “I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen.”

The fire, which ignited Friday, is threatening some 1,500 structures and 675 homes are still evacuated around Placid Lake and in Dogtown and the Double Arrow Ranch subdivision on the southeast side of the fire.

The fire is 10 percent contained, with most of the containment line between the east side of the fire and the west shore of Seeley Lake. The lines got a test Tuesday in red-flag winds and all held.

The southeast side of the fire is the leading edge, or what firefighters call the “head.”

“We do not normally support attacking the head of the fire, but that is exactly what we are doing here,” McNitt said. The fire on that side has stayed pretty low to the ground, giving crews the opportunity to build direct line between the blaze and the homes near the lake.

About 425 people are working the blaze. Being the nation’s top priority, the fire is the first to get available crews and equipment if needed. On Wednesday, a Type 1 incident management team from Alaska took over command.

Fire officials are calling the fire a long-term event, one that might not really quiet until fall arrives. The surrounding communities are in for a long season watching and waiting for enough moisture to end the season. Containment is estimated for Sept. 15. As of now, the fire is exhibiting “extreme” behavior in “extreme” terrain and has “extreme” growth potential, according to reports.

There have been no new evacuation orders issued, but a 12-hour pre-evacuation notice was given to residents living south of the Double Arrow road to Highway 200 and from Highway 83 east to Cottonwood Creek past Cozy Corner, Cross said.

The mandatory evacuation orders are in effect south of the east-west line at mile marker 22 on Highway 83, and everything west of the west shore of Seeley Lake. Highway 83 is closed from Clearwater Junction to Condon. Closures on the west side of the fire include Gray Wolf Trail Road, South Fork Road and Jocko Lakes Road.

Fire officials confirmed Sunday that at least one home burned in the weekend’s blow up, as the fire raced from 800 acres Saturday morning to 14,200 by Sunday.

In addition to the one destroyed home, seven outbuildings and “other” structures were destroyed, and another primary home and a commercial property were damaged, Cross said.

“It’s an amazingly low number (of structures burned) considering how the fire was carrying on,” he said.

The fire erupted Saturday, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes around Placid Lake and Seeley Lake, closing Highway 83 and prompting Gov. Schweitzer to issue an emergency declaration.

The Jocko Lakes Fire was reported at about 3:00 Friday afternoon. The fire first started on Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Land, but quickly spotted to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s protection on Forest Service lands. According to reports from fire information officer Jamie Kirby, the fire spread from 10 acres to 300 in a matter of a half an hour.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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