While Other Montana Fires Calm, Black Cat Fire Runs

By Beacon Staff

As predicted, squirrly winds whipped up several Montana fires Thursday, but others — especially those in central Montana — stayed relatively quiet under thick smoke inversions and cloud cover.

The most activity and attention Friday is focused on the Black Cat fire northwest of Missoula and east of Frenchtown, where three mobile homes and several outbuildings burned in a Thursday night blowup that added almost 4,000 acres to the fire.

Because much of Thursday’s fire activity occurred on a grassy face just north of I-90, everything that could have burned did, and most of the residents evacuated Thursday can return to their homes, said Jane Ellis, co-manager of the Missoula Public Information Call Center. Click here for the complete story on the Black Cat fire.

Elsewhere in western Montana, the Sawmill Complex saw some growth, but not in the areas fire officials are too worried about, said fire information officer Pat McKelvey. On the Jocko Lakes fire, still the nation’s No. 1 priority, lines are holding on the fire’s east side and the containment number keeps inching up, now to 19 percent. And, on the Chippy Creek fire burning near Thompson Falls, thick smoke kept humidity up and fire activity down.

In southcentral Montana on the Columbine fire in Yellowstone National Park, the thunderstorms brought rain and that kept fire activity quiet, allowing park officials to re-open the eastern entrance to the park.

Western Montana Fires

  • 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.

    The fire is up to 19 percent contained, with is “better than it sounds” fire information officer Pete Buist said. As the fire grows, the ratio drops, so the 19 percent containment shows “real good progress,” he said.

    The fire added about 1,000 acres Thursday and is now estimated at 25,170 acres. Most evacuations have been lifted and Highway 83 is now open.

    For a complete report on the Jocko Lakes fire, click here.

  • The Sawmill Complex, a complex of three fires near Rock Creek and 22 miles southeast of Missoula, had a quiet day Thursday and is estimated at 41,704 acres and 20 percent contained.

    The Wyman 2 fire grew to the south and west Thursday and is now estimated at 28,109 acres. There are no evacations on the Wyman 2 fire, but fire information officer Pat McKelvey said firefighters are worried about the fire hooking back around toward Stony Creek, so they are working to tie in line to stop that from happening.

    The Sawmill fire is mapped at 6,225 acres. About 80 residences from milepost 6-9 on Rock road are still evacuated, but all residents on Rock Creek road may travel in and out, but should know the road can be closed at anytime. Crews are positioned along Rock Creek and will patrol and hold the fire as it backs down the slope to Rock Creek. The spot fire that crossed Welcome Creek on Wednesday was contained on Thursday.

    The Fisher Point fire is up to 7,371 acres and has crossed Sandstone Ridge, slowly moving down into the Willow Creek drainage. Thursday, the Granite County Sheriff issued a warning of potential future evacuation to Willow Creek residents and advised that residents may only have a 12 hour notice should an evacuation be issued.

    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, had another active day Thursday expanding — mostly to the east and south — to 11,074 acres. Stage 1 evacuation notices — warnings — have been issued as a precaution for residents living south of Painted Rocks State Park campground north to the Beavertail Road, along the West Fork Road.
  • 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.
  • Two new fires were reported on the Bitterroot National Forest Thursday: The South Sweeney fire is 3 – 5 acres in size, and is located within the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, approx 1 mile northeast of St Joseph Peak, west of Florence. The fire is burning in steep and inaccessible terrain unsafe for ground-based firefighting so helicopters and bucket drops were well utilized for initial attack on this fire. The second new start is located near Salmon Mountain, on the West Fork Ranger District. It is approximately 1 acre in size. The Forest is sending firefighters to suppress this start.

    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 10,000 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

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  • The Chippy Creek Fire, 42 miles southwest of Kalispell, grew only minimally Thursday to 86,731 acres. The smoke inversion “settled the fire down,” said fire information officer Dave Daniels.

    Fire activity was so low, in fact, that crews couldn’t do burnouts on the fire’s lines because the humidity was so high and the temperatures had cooled.

    Saturday, however, could bode differently. “The challenge is going to be tomorrow,” Daniels said. A cold front moving in is supposed to bring with it more wind, which will kick up the fire, but it could also bring some rain, Daniels said, possibly even up to 1/10 of an inch.

    Evacuation orders have been lifted for everyone except residents of the Hubbart Reservoir and Niarada on the northeast side of the fire.

  • The Skyland Fire in the Flathead National Forest totals 40,048 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, The Brush Creek Fire, burning about 25 miles west of Whitefish, saw some moderate activity on Thursday, but crews made good progress, said fire information officer Bill Swartley.

    The fire is now 28,130 acres and 70 percent contained. The containment is down from 75 percent Thursday morning due to two spots where the fire crossed containment lines, Swartley said.

    Crews attacked the slop-overs and caught them. However, the fire has crept to the top of Fox Mountain and now can be seen from the community of Good Creek, which is still under an evacuation request, which means they need to be ready to leave within 12 hours if an evacuation order is issued. Crews are mopping up on the southern part of the fire and that work will continue today.

    Humidities were up yesterday and the winds predicted never materialized, he said. However, crews are anticipating winds over the weekend, but the good news there’s a chance of rain in the forecast and humidities will continued to be higher than the last week. Star Meadows is still under an evacuation order. The fire is staffed by nearly 600 people and, as of Friday, has cost $8.7 million to fight.

Southwestern Montana

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  • The Rat Creek Fire, has grown significantly to about 16,300 acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 25 miles west of Wisdom. Reports say the Big Hole National Battlefield is threatened: “Park buildings, infrastructure and cultural sites will be impacted. Highway 43 could be impacted.

    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.

    Thursday, reports said the fire was plume-dominated with active crowning, significant group crown runs and single tree torching. A dry unstable atmosphere is contributing to extreme fire behavior. There are few readily accessible safety zones near the main fire. The fire is continuing to back down in the Elk Creek drainage. On the southern flank, the fire is beginning to move into the old Sheep Creek Fire where there is less available fuel to burn.

  • The Pattengail Creek Fire, in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest 10 miles northeast of Wisdom, grew to 9,900 acres Thursday, adding 1,900 acres. No structures are threatened.

Central Montana

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    In general, fires in central Montana cooled Thursday under the smoke inversion and cloud cover.

  • The Ahorn Fire, burning in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Lewis and Clark National Forest 30 miles west of Augusta, added just 500 acres Thursday. The fire is now 47,000 acres at 6 percent contained. Most of the recent activity has been on the fire’s west flank, near the Blind Fork of Ahorn Creek, to the north, near Prairie Creek and Goat Creek and to the South between Burned Creek and the South Fork of the Sun River.

    Evacuations are still in place to the fire’s east (Stoner Place), around Gibson reservoir and to the fire’s south, in the Benchmark area, where there are about 65 forest service lease cabins.

  • 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 still holding at 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, 30 miles Northwest of Choteau, is now estimated at 46,908 acres but most of the increase in acreage is due to better mapping, said fire information officer Diane Taliaferro.

    The fire did burn through a group of seven summer lease cabins in the Massey Tract area this week, but none were burned, Taliaferro said. Several outbuildings were lost in the fire, however, she said.

    There fire is just to the north of the Teton Pass Ski Area and crews are doing structure protection there on buildings and the ski lift.

Southcentral Montana

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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 got some rain Thursday, which calmed fire activity enough to prompt park officials to re-open the eastern entrance. The fire is now estimated at 18,500 acres and 0 percent contained. Up to 100 primary structures are listed as threatened.

    The forecast for Friday calls for continued cooler conditions, higher humidity and a chance of rain which would keep fire activity lower.

  • The The Hicks Park Fire , in the Main Boulder Drainage south of Big Timber, has been combined with the Wicked Creek Fire , burning near the Mill Creek drainage of the Paradise Valley south of Livingston, to form the WH Complex.

    In total, the complex has burned 25,400 acres, with 23,500 acres on the Wicked Creek Fire. The complex is 5 percent contained.

    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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