Thunderstorms Expected to Whip Up Montana Fires Thursday

By Beacon Staff

Firefighters have been working to construct fire lines and prep structures in anticipation of the thunderstorms predicted to blow into Western Montana Thursday afternoon.

“It’s going to be a challenging day, no doubt about it,” said Bill Swartley, an information officer on the Brush Creek Fire.

The Brush Creek Fire, 25 miles west of Whitefish, ran again Wednesday, and triggered an ‘evacuation request’ for residences northeast of the blaze. The request means people in the Good Creek Community should prepare to evacuate. If the fire, now 26,626 acres, hits a predetermined trigger point, they will be told to leave.

Fires in Southcentral Montana are getting more attention and resources as fire season rolls on. The Wicked Hicks Complex is growing steadily, now totaling 22,400 acres. Crews there are prepping structures and steadying themselves for predicted dicey weather. Meanwhile, the Columbine Fire in Yellowstone National Park grew enough to force the park to close the eastern entrance for the second time this week.

And a new fire, flamed up northwest of Missoula Tuesday, forced 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. Click here for a more complete story about the Black Cat Fire.

East of Missoula, the Sawmill Complex near Rock Creek spread significantly over the last two days, growing by over 13,000 acres to 41,705. Most of the growth was on the Sawmill Fire, prompting evacuations along upper Rock Creek Road Tuesday night. 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 82,161 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.

Here’s a full roundup of the large fires burning in Montana…

Jocko Lakes Fire, west of Seeley Lake

Firefighters on the Jocko Lakes Fire west of Seeley Lake are “really kicking some butt,” fire information officer Sarah Saarloos said.

And it’s in spite of the same hot, dry and windy conditions hampering the efforts of firefighters across the state. “We haven’t lost any ground,” and you usually need to have the weather in your favor to achieve that, Saarloos said.

Thunderstorms with high winds are expected to roll over the fire area this afternoon. “You have to prepare for the worst with these types of thundercells,” Saarloos said. “These huge and unstable storms just amplify the wind.”

Saarloos likened the red-flag conditions over the past week to a mid-term. “We’re getting close to the final exam,” she said this morning, “especially on the east perimeter.”

The fire is mapped at 24,190 acres — about 38 square miles — and it’s now 15 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 82,161 acres by Thursday morning despite the 33-thousand gallons of water and 27-thousand gallons of retardant dropped on the blaze yesterday.

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 41,705 acres Wednesday morning, adding about 10,000 acres.

    The Wyman 2 now totals 28,109 acres, with the Sawmill fire growing to 6,225.

    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
    “We are expecting a heavy burning day today,” said information officer Al Barbian.

    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 2,060 acres Wednesday to 8,560 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://63.196.254.151/WildWeb/WCMT-BRC.htm. Click “recent incidents.”

  • The Conger Creek Fire, Lolo National Forest, 20 miles north of Ovando along Highway 200, is at 9,800 acres and being managed as a Wildand Fire Use fire and monitored, not actively suppressed. (Click here to learn more about Wildand Fire Use.)

Northwestern Montana:

  • The Skyland Fire in the Flathead National Forest totals 40,704 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 notice to evacuate and 26 others are still on evacuation warning.

  • The Brush Creek Fire, about 29 miles west of Whitefish, MT, is up to 26,628 acres and is up to 75 percent contained with a target containment date set for August 30. There is direct and indirect line all the way around the fire, but on Wednesday the fire crossed the line at Fox Creek Road and at Swaney Ridge, said fire information officer Bill Swartley. People living in the Good Creek Area are on evacuation request, meaning they need to be prepared to leave quickly if the blaze moves further to the northeast. The mandatory evacuation order for the community of Star Meadow remains in effect.
  • 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.

Southwestern Montana:

  • The Rat Creek Fire, has grown significantly to about 12,000 acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 25 miles west of Wisdom. Reports said the Big Hole National Battlefield is threatened. “Park buildings, infrastructure 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 Northfork Ranch, Ritschel Ranch, and Maybee Ranch are now evacuated, and several other ranches and the Big Hole National Battlefield are on pre-evacuation notice. The Lewis, Buck, Parsons, and Else Ranches are being monitored.

    On Wednesday, the fire advanced toward Highway 43 along the southern flank. It has crossed Elk Creek and is currently holding along the west flank and is expected to move east and northeast.

    A public meeting is scheduled for Friday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the Rat Creek Fire at the Masonic Lodge in Wisdom.

  • The Pattengail Creek Fire, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest 10 miles northeast of Wisdom. 8,000 acres at 15 percent contained. No structures are threatened but erratic winds are expected for Thursday, which may fuel the fire.
  • 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.

Central Montana:

  • 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 south 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 6 percent 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, quieted Wednesday after showing major growth Tuesday afternoon. It is now mapped at approximately 42,615 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.

Southcentral Montana:

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, forcing the closure of the eastern entrance to the park again. The fire was active again Wednesday, spotting to the east into Canfield Creek and Cabin Creek. The fire established itself in the top third of Canfield Creek, triggering a pre-evacuation alert for residents from Pahaska Tepee to the Boy Scout Camp near Kitty Creek. Approximately 100 structures are in the Canfield Creek Drainage Area. The fire is estimated at 13,000 acres, but may cover as many as 17,000.
  • The The Hicks Park Fire , in the Main Boulder Drainage south of Big Timber, has been combined with the Wicked Creek Fire to form the Wicked Hicks Complex, burning near the Mill Creek drainage of the Paradise Valley south of Livingston.

    In total, the complex has burned 22,400 acres, with 21,000 acres 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 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. Daily public meetings are being held to discuss the wicked Hicks Complex. On even days of the week, meetings will be held in the Big Timber High School at 6 pm. On odd days of the week, meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Emigrant Community Center. An additional meeting, hosted by Stillwater County, is scheduled for Thursday at 2:00 pm at the Nye Fire Hall. For residents on pre-evacuation notice, Sweet Grass County is requiring they obtain a trip permit to access their property. Trip permits can be obtained at the Sweet Grass County Courthouse from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. For more information contact the Emergency Operation Center at 406-932-3014 or check their web page at: http://www.co.sweetgrass.mt.us/

For the latest fire information, visit NewWest.Net/Fire

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. (InciWeb has been slammed lately and it’s often inaccessible.)

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.

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