Weekend Winds Rouse Montana Fires

By Beacon Staff

Sunday afternoon’s red-flag winds brought by a cold front stirred up most of the wildfires across the state, prompting more evacuations over the weekend on four fires in Western Montana. But cooler temperatures, higher humidity and even a bit of rain in spots followed, giving crews a breather and a chance to build more containment line.

The most pressing fire was the Ford fire, started by lightning near Lockwood’s Emerald Hills area east of Billings Sunday afternoon, displacing an estimated 1,500 people and destroying two homes and several outbuildings and vehicles, the Billings Gazette reports. Sunday night the Ford Fire was 600 acres in size and about 350 homes were evacuated. Visit the Gazette for more.

Meanwhile, the The Black Cat Fire burning northwest of the intersection of Highway 93 and Interstate-90 near Missoula cooled down Sunday evening, helped by the sprinkle of rain.

In the afternoon, though, wind fueled a flare up in the Mill Creek area and the fire spilled over into Cottonwood Creek, according to fire information officer Peter D’Aquanni, and that “put up a lot of smoke.” Crews conducted small, targeted burnout operations along the west side of 93 during the day to take out remaining fuel pockets.

A pre-evacuation warning was issued for the area between mile marker 10 and mile marker 12 on both sides of 93, though fire officials called it precautionary. All prior evacuations along 93 in the Evaro area remain in effect.

Monday morning the fire was 8,448 acres and 12 percent contained. D’Aquanni said Monday should be a good day, with high humidity, cooler temperatures, and significantly less wind.

Today, firefighters will continue to hold and secure the fire line in the Spring Hill and Mill Creek area. On the north and northeast flanks, resources will continue constructing line using existing roads where possible and burning out as needed. On the east flank of the fire, crews will continue to manage the fire as it backs down toward Highway 93.

Due to the fire activity adjacent to Highway 93, the highway may be intermittently closed throughout the day and delays should be expected.

A fire information meeting will be held Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Frenchtown High School Gymnasium.

The following evacuations remain in effect:
– West side of Highway 93 from mile marker 3.5 to mile marker 5.5 including Grooms and Ryan Roads.
– Both sides of Highway 93 from mile marker 5.5 to mile marker 10 (Joes’s Smoke Ring) including all property accessed from and including Beargrass Mountain, Mercer, and Evaro Roads.
– Upper Mill Creek including Mill Creek stables and the area above Mill Creek Bridge.

Click here for Anne Medley’s photos from Thursday night on the Black Cat fire, when three mobile homes, a vacant house and several outbuildings burned.

Early Sunday afternoon 35 mph winds hit the Jocko Lakes Fire west of Seeley Lake, forcing firefighters to withdraw from fire lines on the fire’s southern flank and prompting the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office to issue another mandatory evacuation order for the Placid Lake area. The fire jumped containment lines and spread to the southeast. The fire was also active in its northern section and spot fires popped up a mile to the northeast of containment lines. The fire is burning north of Deer Creek and is east of Lake Elsina.

Between 0.02 and 0.1 inches of rain fell on the fire in the evening, and higher humidity and cooler temps are expected to stick around for most of the week. Crews will begin construction of new containment line today.

The fire is up to 31,520 acres, 25 percent contained. A community meeting will be held Monday night at the Seeley Lake school at 8 p.m.

At the Sawmill Complex Fire, due to mild, wet weather, the mandatory evacuation order issued Sunday for all of Rock Creek has been lifted. However, Rock Creek residents are still under 24-hour evacuation notice. Rock Creek Road is open to residents only. From Mile Marker 12 to Miller Flats Rock Creek Road is closed to all traffic, including residents. The alternate route for Miller Flat residents is along the Rock Creek to the south. Sunday’s evacuation of the Upper Willow Creek area from Miners Gulch Road north remains in effect. The Upper Willow Creek road is closed to all travel from Miners Gulch north.

The entire complex is currently mapped at 50,575 acres, with each fire being very active Sunday.

The Wyman 2 Fire, the largest of the complex, is up to 33,356 acres, and on Sunday it spotted across Stoney Creek on the south side. Monday’s moderated conditions will allow firefighters to assess the spot fire and act on opportunities to control it. On the north end of the fire, crews will continue to scout for burnout opportunities to tie into the old Alder Burn. Firefighters are continuing structure protection.

The Sawmill Fire is 7,800 acres, and its south end was active Sunday as the fire spotted south of Welcome Creek and moved rapidly upslope. Fire also spotted east of Rock Creek and south of Ranch Creek. The fire burned down to the footbridge at the Welcome Creek Trail and spotted across Rock Creek. Those spot fires are being assessed today. The north end of the fire is progressing towards Gilbert Creek.

The Fisher Point Fire is now 9,419 acres. On Sunday, the southeast corner of the fire grew approximately 3/4 mile wide by one mile. Cold front winds pushed the fire east towards Standish Creek. The fire is expected to continue its movement in two fingers toward the east and northeast. Evacuations are still in effect.

Community fire information meetings are scheduled for lower Rock Creek residents at the Elkhorn Lodge on Monday at 7:00 p.m. and for upper Rock Creek residents at the Clark Ranch on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

In southwest Montana, winds reached almost 50 mph around Butte Sunday afternoon, bringing heavy smoke and power outages and sending local fire crews scrambling to quell several small starts, but no major incidents were reported.

The Rombo Fire south of Darby was kicked up by high winds Sunday afternoon where some 30 additional structures were put under mandatory evacuation over the weekend. Monday, the fire was estimated at 18,000 acres. Mandatory evacuations are in place for 30 structures in the area south of the Job Corp Center to Lloyd Creek. Stage 1 evacuation “notices” are in effect for 35 structures between Lloyd Creek and Lavene Creek as well as for residents between Warm Springs Creek west to Conner.

Northwestern Montana Fires:

  • The Chippy Creek Fire, 42 miles southwest of Kalispell and 24 miles north of Thompson Falls had an active weekend, jumping containment lines Saturday and growing another 3,370 acres Sunday to 96,154 acres. It is still 30 percent contained.

    Residents along the Hubbard Dam Road from the junction with the Niarada Road north to the Hubbard Dam subdivision remain under an evacuation order.

  • The Skyland Fire in the Flathead National Forest has seen moderate activity in th last week and Monday is estimated at 44,373 acres at 51 percent contained. It’s 45 miles east of Whitefish.

    All evacuations have been reduced to Stage 1 — or evacuation warnings. Those warnings apply to the following: Highway 2 Corridor, with 26 residences and 28 outbuildings; Glacier Acres with 46 residences and 13 outbuildings; Little Badger with 26 residences and 24 outbuildings.

    Acres burned by landowner are as follows: Blackfeet Tribal Land: 9,626; Private land within Blackfeet Tribal Land: 1,167; Private land within Lewis & Clark National forest: 411; Flathead National Forest: 3,403; Lewis and Clark National Forest: 29,766.

  • The Brush Creek Fire, burning about 25 miles west of Whitefish, was relatively quiet over the weekend, giving crews a chance to make big progress in building more containment line. The fire, now at 29,676 acres is now 85 percent contained.

    The containment work and lower fire activity prompted Flathead County Sheriff Mike Meehan to lift evacuation orders in the Star Meadows community Sunday night.

Southwestern Montana:

  • The Rat Creek Fire, in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 25 miles west of Wisdom, spread eastward Sunday, adding another 1,471 acres to 18,365 acres. Crews have it 10 percent contained.

    The Big Hole National Battlefield is open to the public with normal business hours (9:00am-6:00pm) but remains ready to evacuate if necessary. The Northfork Ranch was evacuated early Sunday evening while several other ranches and the Battlefield are being monitored and are on pre-evacuation notice.

  • The Pattengail Creek Fire, in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest 10 miles northeast of Wisdom, grew to 11,788 acres Saturday and held there Sunday. No structures are threatened and the fire is 15 percent contained.

Central Montana:

  • The Ahorn Fire, burning in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Lewis and Clark National Forest 30 miles west of Augusta, was active Sunday on the southwest and southeast ends. It is still estimated at 50,950 acres. It remains 6 percent contained.

    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.

    From morning reports: Most of the activity over the weekend was on the southwest side in Grizzly and Pearl Basins pushing down to Hoadly Creek. Active backing was observed there and when the inversion lifted activity increased significantly with uphill runs and torching observed in the late afternoon. Low to moderate backing in heavy fuels was seen in the vicinity of Lost Fork (Ahorn Creek). The northeast corner was also active again burning west of the K-Bar-L Ranch. Backcounty cabins (K Bar L, Game and Fish) appear to be in good shape for any sort of structure protection effort.

  • Crews have a good handle on the Meriwether Fire, burning in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness north of Helena near Wolf Creek but it did get active over the weekend after a relatively quiet week. The fire grew slightly Sunday to 43,296 acres and is 75 percent contained.
  • The Fool Creek Fire, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, 30 miles Northwest of Choteau, grew again Sunday by 2,500 acres to 58,000 acres.

    Fire officials said although Sunday afternoon brought increased fire activity, the eastern edge of the fire held, keeping the fire from getting any closer to the ranches, homes, and dude ranches along the forest boundary. The fire is backing its way down toward the Teton Pass ski area, but morning reports said crews were making good progress on containing and mopping up the slop over near the ski area and will continue to check spread toward there.

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

  • The Conger Creek Fire, Lolo National Forest, 20 miles north of Ovando along Highway 200, is at 13,600 acres and being managed as a Wildand Fire Use fire and monitored, not actively suppressed. (Click here to learn more about Wildand Fire Use.)

Southcentral Montana:

  • The Columbine Fire, burning 46 miles southeast of Mammoth in Yellowstone National Park got even more rain (enough for a mudslide) over the weekend and only smoldering and creeping were reported on the fire. The fire is estimated at 18,255 acres and 2 percent contained. The eastern entrance to the park is now open after being closed intermittently by the fire and then on Saturday, closed by a mudslide unrelated to the fire.

    According to morning reports: The precipitation will slow the spread of the fire, but will not permanently stop the fire and there may be some smoke coming from burning within the interior of the fire.

  • 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 30,050 acres and despite growth over the weekend, more crews and better weather allowed firefighters to get the complex up to 20 percent contained

    The Wicked Creek fire is now 27,450 acres and the Hicks Park fire is 2,600 acres.

    According to fire officials: “The amount of contained perimeter on the west side of both fires continues to increase, and the threat to structures has been substantially reduced.”

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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