Across the board, Montana fires grew in drier weather Tuesday, but heavy incoming smoke from Idaho fires helped keep fire activity close to the ground on some blazes.
Fires in Southcentral Montana are getting more attention and resources as the fire season continues, with the Wicked Hicks Complex growing some 10,000 acres from Tuesday morning and the Columbine Fire in Yellowstone National Park growing enough to force the park to again close the eastern entrance.
Meanwhile, a new fire sprouted northwest of Missoula Tuesday, forcing the immediate evacuation of some 20 homes near Evaro west of Highway 93 and north of Interstate 90. The Black Cat Fire started just east of Frenchtown Pond and has so far burned 600 acres in steep, rocky terrain.
East of Missoula, the Sawmill Complex near Rock Creek also saw some action Tuesday and grew to 27,250 acres. Fire officials are expecting more activity in the next two days and so they ordered more evacuations along Rock Creek Road Tuesday. About 77 homes and cabins, not all occupied, were evacuated by 8 a.m. Wednesday.
The Jocko Lakes Fire near Seeley continues to be the nation’s top priority fire, but the Chippy Creek Fire burning near Thompson Falls is on the rise for priority as well. It is number two for priority and the largest fire in Montana this season at 77,500 acres. Next on the priority list is the Columbine Fire in Yellowstone National Park and then the Sawmill Complex, followed by the Wicked Hicks Complex.
Priority fires are first in line for national resources, like firefighting crews, incident management teams and air support.
Here’s a full roundup of the large fires burning in Montana…
Jocko Lakes Fire, west of Seeley Lake
As of Wednesday morning, the majority of the evacuated residents around Seeley Lake adjacent to the Jocko Lakes Fire are allowed to return to their homes, except residents of the following areas: Eagle Point subdivision, Snowmass Drive, Westside Bypass Road (2190), and locations inside the fire perimeter.
In addition, Highway 83 is now open. Officials are asking drivers to exercise caution with the highway being used for fire traffic.
On Tuesday, crews were able to hold the line on the east side of the fire, closest to Seeley Lake and most of the 1,500 threatened homes, but much of the extreme fire behavior is elsewhere. “We’re putting most of our efforts down on the southern horn and continued contained on the east front,” fire information officer Jennifer Yuhas said.
That southern flank has growth significantly in the last few days, and Yuhas said the fire there, and on the north side too, is particularly unpredictable. “The conditions that we’ve got here are conditions that lead to free burning during the heat of the day,” Kempton said. “Just a little bit of wind allows it to spot ahead of itself. This fire is active even at night.”
As for the severe thunderstorms and high winds expected Thursday, “It’s not going to be as strong as predicted, but it’s still supposed to show up,” Yuhas said. The National Weather Service states that “breezy conditions and isolated strong to severe thunderstorms” are possible.
Wednesday morning the fire was mapped at 22,270 acres — about 35 square miles — and 9 percent contained. For a complete report on the Jocko Lakes fire, click here.
Chippy Creek Fire, North of Thompson Falls
The Chippy Creek Fire, 42 miles southwest of Kalispell, had grown to 44,500 acres by Wednesday morning, adding 3,850 acres Tuesday.
A Northern Rockies Type 1 team took over the fire Monday, replacing the Arizona-based Type II team that had been managing the incident. Evacuation orders have been lifted for everyone except residents of the Hubbart Reservoir and Niarada on the northeast side of the fire.
In Western Montana:
- The Sawmill Complex, a complex of three fires near Rock Creek and 22 miles southeast of Missoula, was mapped at 31,380 acres Wednesday morning, adding about 1,560 acres Tuesday.
Fire officials reported active fire behavior on the two largest fires, the 23,260-acre Wyman 2 fire and the 4,334-acre Sawmill fire.
The Sawmill fire crossed Sawmill Creek to the north Tuesday and a mandatory evacuation of about 80 residences went into effect Wednesday morning along Rock Creek Road from mile marker 6 to mile marker 9. The fire continues to back down toward Rock Creek, and helicopters are dropping water on that flank to keep it from spreading. .
Crews are positioned along Rock Creek between Brewster Creek and Babcock Creek to begin burnout operations where needed as the fire moves downslope toward Rock Creek
A community meeting is planned for Wednesday at 4:00 pm at the Elkhorn Ranch Lodge.
The biggest blaze of the three, the Wyman 2 Fire, continues to expand to the northeast and is moving just over the Sapphire divide on the Bitterroot side. While some evacuations were lifted last week for the Williams Gulch and Wild Rose Loop subdivisions, all other evacuations and road closures remain in effect.
Rock Creek Road beginning at the intersection of I-90, south to the intersection with state road 348, remains closed. Only residents and area landowners are allowed access beyond the control points. Stony Creek Road is also closed.
- The Rombo Fire, on the Bitterroot National Forest, grew by another 1,000 acres Tuesday to 6,500 acres, with zero percent contained.
- The Tin Cup Fire west of Darby was called 100 percent contained Sunday. The fire is at 608 acres, and despite initial alarm about the blaze – it was the nation’s number one priority late last week – it was contained quickly with no structures lost.
For more on the Rombo, Tin Cup and all of the Bitterroot blazes go here: http://18.104.22.168/WildWeb/WCMT-BRC.htm. Click “recent incidents.”
- The Conger Creek Fire, Lolo National Forest, 20 miles north of Ovando along Highway 200, is at 9,315 acres and being managed as a Wildand Fire Use fire and monitored, not actively suppressed. (Click here to learn more about Wildand Fire Use.)
- The Skyland Fire in the Flathead National Forest totals 40,548 acres at 60 percent contained. It’s 45 miles east of Whitefish.
Tuesday, the trail closures in Glacier National Park were lifted. All evacuations have been lifted, but at least 72 residences are on still on evacuation notice and 26 others are still on evacuation warning.
- The Brush Creek Fire, about 29 miles west of Whitefish, MT, is up to 26,425 acres and is up to 65 percent contained with a target containment date set for August 30. There is direct and indirect line all the way around the fire, but crews still need to burn and blacken the line to secure it. The mandatory evacuation order for the community of Star Meadow remains in effect. The Good Creek Community has been put on warning to be ready should it need to evacuate.
There will be a community meeting Wednesday at 7 pm at the Incident Command Post located 3 1/4 miles south of US Highway 93 on Farm to Market Road.
- The Garceau Fire, 10 miles from Polson on the Flathead Indian Reservation, has burned a total of 3,045 acres. Officials declared it contained Monday.
- The Rat Creek Fire, has grown significantly to about 10,000 acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 25 miles west of Wisdom. Reports said the Big Hole National Battlefield is threatened. “Park buildings, infrstructure and cultural sites will be impacted. Highway 43 could be impacted,” according to morning reports. A Type II team is moving onto the fire to replace the Type III team.
- The Pattengail Creek Fire, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest 10 miles northeast of Wisdom. 7,200 acres at 15 percent contained. Major spotting Tuesday resulting in larger acreage spots, major runs producing smoke column punching through the inversion. Majority of fire spread was to the North. No structures are threatened.
- Officials on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest reported that Tuesday marked the first day in more than a week without a new fire starting in the Dillon dispatch zone. Engines returned to the 203 acre Barrett fire south of Dillon. A crew remains on the nine acre Buffalo Creek fire north of Elk Park and Butte. Two BLM engines joined a crew for twelve hours on the 178 acre Goodwin fire, near Whitehall. The 60 acre Willow Creek fire south of Butte was controlled at 5 p.m. and put on patrol status.
- The Ahorn Fire, burning in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Lewis and Clark National Forest 30 miles west of Augusta, added 1,971 acres Tuesday, in breezy conditions and low relative humidity. Helicopters helped hold the fire’s growth on the north side, nearest to Benchmark, to about 50 acres. North of Prairie Reef on the north side of the fire an additional 1500 acres burned. And on the northeast side the fire grew approximately 150-200 acres south of the K- Bar Ranch. Logging trucks continued hauling out felled trees that were cut along the Beaver Willow Road.
The fire is 46,500 acres at 6percent contained. Click here for a recent map of the fire.
Fire officials say the fire is still active on its perimeters and showing potential for more spread.
- Crews have a good handle on the Meriwether Fire, burning in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness north of Helena near Wolf Creek. The fire is up to 42,438 acres and is 75 percent contained. Crews are already doing line rehabilitation and some mop up while monitoring the fire above Hunter Creek.
- The Fool Creek Fire, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, showed major growth Tuesday afternoon. Morning reports said “Smoke has prevented complete recon, but an additional 3800+ acres may have been affected” on the fire’s southeast corner. It is still mapped Wednesday at 34,075 acres, 30 miles Northwest of Choteau.
Total acreage on Fool Creek Fire includes 21,888 acres of Wildland Fire Use: 11,734 on the Flathead National Forest and 10,154 on the Lewis & Clark National Forest.
Fires in Southcentral Montana have started to act up and gain more attention as the fire season progresses.
- The Columbine Fire, burning 46 miles southeast of Mammoth in Yellowstone National Park has been active again, forcing the closure of the eastern entrance to the park again. Single tree and group tree torching were reported near the fire perimeter on the northern flank but the fire moved mostly to the southeast, pushed by the gusty winds. The fire is still estimated at 12,000 acres, but that does not take into account Tuesday’s growth.
According to morning reports, the fire made fuel-driven crown fire runs toward the east park boundary Tuesday afternoon near the Canfield Creek drainage. If the fire enters the Canfield Creek drainage, this will trigger an evacuation alert for approximately 100 structures, reports said.
- The The Hicks Park Fire , in the Main Boulder Drainage south of Big Timber, has been combined with the Wicked Creek Fire near the Mill Creek drainage of the Paradise Valley south of Livingston.
Total, the complex has burned 21,000 acres, 20,000 acres being on the Wicked Creek Fire. According to morning reports, about 30 commercial buildings, 250 primary homes and 250 outbuildings are threatened by the two fires.
The Hicks Park Fire has prompted officials to implement several closures, including the Main Boulder River Road, from Natural Bridge south. The drainage has been evacuated from ClydeHurst Church Camp (near Big Beaver Campground) south to Box Canyon. From Natural Bridge to ClydeHurst Church Camp, residents have been placed on pre-evacuation notice. For residents on pre-evacuation notice, Sweet Grass County is requiring they obtain a trip permit to access their property, to help ensure a correct accounting of people in the drainage should evacuation become necessary. Trip permits can be obtained at the Sweet Grass County Courthouse, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Gallatin and Custer National Forests are implementing an area closure including the entire West Boulder and Main Boulder drainages.
On the Wicked Creek Fire, burning 12 miles up the Mill Creek basin on the east side of Paradise Valley, about 20 structures, including a bible camp and an inholding, were evacuated Saturday and Sunday night, the Park County Sheriff issued evacuation orders for the Mill Creek drainage as well, above the end of the paved road.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.