Evacuations Reordered on Jocko Lakes Fire

By Beacon Staff

The Jocko Lakes Fire forced fire officials to re-order evacuations Sunday as the fire’s unruly east side — the side closest to the some 1,500 threatened structures — got active again in stronger winds.

Some of the original 675 evacuations on the fire were lifted earlier in the week, but on Sunday, they were ordered again in the following areas: Boy Scout Road from Highway 83 to the bridge; Riverview from Highway 83 to the bridge ; The two subdivisions adjacent to Riverview Bridge; Daisy; Wagonwheel and Overland.

Fire information officer Jennifer Yuhas said Sunday’s conditions were nearly identical to last Saturday’s, when the fire blew up and forced the initial wave of evacuations. Winds reached up to 30 mph Sunday, Yuhas said, with most of the activity on the fire’s east flank, along the west shore of Seeley Lake. Yuhas said the fire did not jump the contingency line on that flank, but one spot fire did pop up across the line toward a subdivision but crews snuffed it before it got to be more than ¼ of an acre.

That was precisely the kind of fire activity that prompted the re-issue of the evacuations.

“We didn’t want to take any chances,” Yuhas said.

The fire is now 20,800 acres, up from 19,540 Sunday morning. But, the containment estimate also took a jump. By Sunday night, crews had line around 16 percent of the fire. Earlier Sunday, the fire was estimated at 11 percent contained.

“We’re pretty proud of that,” Yuhas said.

The new evacuation orders were issued at 4:30 p.m. and by 5:30 p.m. the evacuations were complete, Yuhas said. The Red Cross is re-opening a shelter in Bonner for evacuees.

By nightfall, however, things were looking up. The winds had calmed to 2-4 mph and night crews were working under a low smoke inversion, which should give them a chance to work on building more line.

“Things are going to be colder and wetter,” Yuhas said.

The fire had a quiet Saturday, growing only a couple hundred acres to 19,540 acres — or about 30 square miles — with most of that growth again on the fire’s south side. The northeast edge of the fire, closest to Seeley Lake and the homes on its west side, spread only slightly Saturday, giving crew a chance to make progress on building containment line around the perimeter of the fire.

Evacuations remain in place for the northwest corner of Placid Lake and areas off of Boy Scout Road, which runs along the west side of Seeley Lake.

Travel on Highway 83 is restricted between Clearwater Junction and Mile Marker 31. Officials are asking that travel be limited to residents of the Seeley Lake/Condon area, people with “legitimate business” and people attending scheduled functions.

Also, Seeley Lake and Placid Lake are both closed to recreational boat use to allow helicopters and water scooping planes to fill from the lake.

The fire, which ignited last Friday, August 3, is threatening some 1,500 structures.

The fire is again listed as the nation’s top priority wildfire. For a few days this week it was trumped by the Tin Cup Fire near Darby in the Bitterroot Valley, which is now fully contained. On Wednesday, a Type 1 incident management team from Alaska took over command. So far, about $3.8 million has been spent fighting the fire.

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.

Fire officials confirmed Sunday, August 5 that at least one home burned in the weekend’s blow up, as the fire raced from 800 acres last 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.

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.

“It just screamed,” fire information officer Ricardo “Zuni” Zuniga said. “It just ran four to five miles in about four hours.”

The Jocko Lakes Fire was reported at about 3:00 Friday, August 3. 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.

This is the breakdown of jurisdiction and acreage so far:

600 ACRES on Flathead Agency (MT-FHA)
4400 ACRES on Lolo National Forest (MT-LNF)
12540 ACRES on Missoula Dispatch-Private (MT-MDCI)
2000 ACRES on DNRC Southwest Montana Land Office (MT-SWS)

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.