Rain Gives Firefighters Edge on Black Cat, Jocko Lakes Fires

By Beacon Staff

Monday’s cooler temperatures and scattered rain gave firefighters the edge they need on several Montana fires, including the Jocko Lakes fire burning near Seeley Lake and the Black Cat fire burning northwest of Missoula.

And, more of the same weather is on its way for Tuesday before things start heating up again later in the week.

The Black Cat Fire northwest of the intersection of Highway 93 and Interstate-90 near Evaro, which blew up last week burning three mobile homes, one vacant home and several outbuildings, went from 12 percent contained to 30 percent contained by Monday night.

Crews were able to do more burnouts along Highway 93 and the fire burned back on itself on the northern flank, which is where crews had the most success in building more containment line in the Mill Creek area.

Still, all evacuations along 93 in the Evaro area remain in effect as does a “precautionary” pre-evacuation for the area between mile marker 10 and mile marker 12 on both sides of 93.

Monday morning the fire was 11,515 acres — up from earlier estimates before Sunday afternoon runs.

Fire information officer Marian Swinney said helicopters were finally able to fly after being held back the last day or so by heavy smoke or high winds and they helped crews in securing more line around the fire. “They’re pretty happy with the way it’s going,” she said.

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.

Jocko Lakes Fire

Meanwhile, northeast of Missoula, the Jocko Lakes Fire west of Seeley Lake, calmed enough Monday to allow crews back into the fire’s bugger of a south side to build more line after the fire jumped contingency lines there Sunday, forcing the re-evacution of the Placid Lake area.

The fire is now 34,810 acres, with most of the increase in acreage from Sunday’s activity and very little from Monday. It is 28 percent contained.

The northeast side of the fire held through Sunday afternoon’s fire activity and is still is really good shape, said fire information officer Tom Kempton. And, with the “unseasonably cool” weather Monday, crews made “really good progress on the southern edge,” Kempton said.

There, crews were able to finally build direct line — right up next to the fire — rather than contingency line away from the fire’s edge, which they’d been doing because of the intensity of the burning since the fire started Aug. 3 by lightning. “That’s been a big change,” Kempton said.

Still, it will be at least a day before fire officials are comfortable lifting evacuations near Placid Lake, the only evacuations left on the fire.

Air support was also plentiful on the Jocko Lakes fire Monday, with CL215 “super scoopers” on the fire and helicopters dropping water.

Also, nearby Lake Inez, which had been closed to recreation, was opened again Monday.

Sawmill Complex

On 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 closed to all but local traffic and is closed from Mile Marker 12 to Miller Flats to all traffic. But, Rock Creek Road is open to all traffic from the Interstate 90 to the guard post at Mile Marker 2.

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.

Fire officials got a clearer picture Monday of the Rombo Fire south of Darby and for the first time in several days, smoke cleared and cooler temperatures kept fire activity down. The fire flared up Sunday sending spot fires to the fire’s east, but most of them were contained Monday. Also, air support was able to drop retardant on key spots on the fire to help hold the southwest flank of the fire.

The mandatory evacuations for residents between the Trapper Creek Job Corps Center and south to Lloyd Creek along the West Fork Road were downgraded to a Stage I Pre-evacuation Alert.

The fire is estimated at 20,300 acres.

Meanwhile, near Billings, the Ford fire which started Sunday afternoon near Billings and quickly raced to 804 acres, burning at least two homes, was still active Monday. As the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2007/08/20/news/local/20-emerald_z.txt" title="Billings Gazette reported, humidity dropped”>Billings Gazette reported, humidity dropped and winds did pick back up. About 300 homes are still evacuated in the Emerald Hills area. The fire is 10 percent contained.

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.