Montana Fires Remain Calm, But Weekend Winds Loom

By Beacon Staff

All week Montana fires have been quiet and much of the smoke has blown away. Most evacuation orders have been lifted a handful of the blazes are nearly fully contained. However, this weekend could bring windier and drier conditions, and some of the fire lines constructed this week across Montana may be tested.

Here’s a roundup…

Black Cat Fire

The Black Cat Fire, northwest of the intersection of Highway 93 and Interstate-90 near Evaro, remains quiet — it hasn’t spread beyond its 11,515 acres all week. Crews now have it 40 percent contained, up from 35 percent on Thursday.

Today, firefighters will continue the 300-acre burnout begun yesterday at the fire’s northern boundary near Charity Peak, a couple miles west of Highway 93. Crews hunkered down there overnight to monitor the area and get an early start on today’s operations.

“It’s a beautiful blue sky, the sun’s shining — a good day to get a handle on this thing,” fire information officer Roger Miller said.

But winds might pick up this weekend, Miller said, so crews and working to get the burnout completed and calmed down before the front rolls in.

Officials are shooting to have the fire fully contained in three or four days, Miller said, but that’s contingent on the burnout going well. “It’s kind of up to mother nature.”

There will be a fire briefing in Arlee tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the High School.

There are 650 personnel working the fire, including nine Type 1 handcrews and six Type 2 handcrews, aided by 28 engines, 7 dozers, 12 watertenders, and aerial resources.

Click here for Anne Medley’s photos from last Thursday night’s run.

Jocko Lakes Fire

Northwest of Missoula, the Jocko Lakes Fire west of Seeley Lake is still calm, and firefighters continue to focus their efforts on the northern and southern flanks where they’ve been laying hoses, improving line and beginning the mop-up process.

Firefighters are also beginning to scout the southwest perimeter of the fire, an area that hadn’t been a priority with so much activity elsewhere, fire information officer Roger Miller said.

The fire is up slightly to 39,940 acres and 37 percent contained.

Some wind is expected to hit the fire area this weekend, and coupled with the gradual warming and drying trend, “fire activity is going to gradually increase…right on through the remainder of this weekend and next week as well,” Miller said. He added, “It’s going to test some of the line we’ve put in the last few days.”

The Salmon Lake State Park Campground reopened today at 8 a.m. And the Seeley Lake and all Seeley Lake Forest Service campgrounds and boat launches will be open for public use at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

The Pacific Northwest National Incident Management (PNW) Team 2 assumed command of the fire this morning.

Sawmill Complex

The Sawmill Complex Fire was quiet again on Thursday, another cool day. But there’s a windy and dry cold front forecast to arrive Sunday morning that could stir things up again.

The total complex is still mapped at 55,000 acres. The largest fire of the complex, the Wyman 2, is holding at 34,000 acres, the Sawmill Fire at 10,300 acres, and the Fisher Point Fire at 10,400 acres. The Signal Rock 07 Fire is 300 acres.

Rock Creek residents are still under a 24-hour pre-evacuation notice. Rock Creek Road is open to residents only. Between Mile Marker 12 and Miller Flats, Rock Creek Road is closed to all traffic, including residents. The alternate route for Miller Flat residents is along the Rock Creek Road to the south.

Upper Willow Creek (Granite County) residents are still under a 24-hour pre-evacuation notice. The Upper Willow Creek road is open to residents only.

Rombo Fire

Rain from earlier in the week still has the Rombo Fire south of Darby quiet. Friday morning the fire was up slightly to 20,530 acres, zero percent contained.

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.

Click here for information on the Bitterroot Wildland Fire Use Complex, which includes 17 lightning fires located in the Selway Bitterroot and Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness west of Darby, Montana.

Meanwhile, near Billings, the Ford fire, which started Sunday afternoon and quickly raced to 804 acres and burned at least two homes, is fully contained.

Northwestern Montana Fires:

  • The Chippy Creek Fire, 42 miles southwest of Kalispell and 24 miles north of Thompson Falls is now mapped at 96,828 acres and 40 percent contained, up from 37 percent on Thursday. Burnouts were conducted on the difficult northwest and southwest corners of the fire, the fire camp reported. Progress is being made building direct line on both the north and south flanks, and on the southeast flank, operations will assess the unburned north face of Alder Creek to determine whether to blacken the indirect dozer line and isolate the finger that has grown there or burn it out. Crews will soon address rehabilitation needs.

    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 45 miles east of Whitefish, has seen moderate activity lately. Friday morning the fire was mapped at 45,760 acres at 67 percent contained, up from 55 percent Thursday.

    In the next couple days, winds from a passing cold front could whip up the fire on its southern, eastern, and northern flanks.

    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.

  • The Brush Creek Fire, burning about 25 miles west of Whitefish, has been relatively quiet, giving crews a chance to make big progress in building more containment line. Friday morning, the fire was 29,921 acres and 90 percent contained. The fire is expected to be fully contained by Sunday, but Saturday should bring dry and windy conditions.

Southwestern Montana:

  • The Rat Creek Fire, in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 25 miles west of Wisdom, is now mapped at 19,300 acres, 15 percent contained. 38 structures remain threatened. Minimal fire movement is anticipated, the fire camp reports.
  • The Pattengail Creek Fire, in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest 10 miles northeast of Wisdom, is now mapped at 11,869 acres. No structures are threatened and the fire is 15 percent contained.

Central Montana:

  • The 51,000-acre Ahorn Fire, burning in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Lewis and Clark National Forest 30 miles west of Augusta, is now 10 percent. 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 stands at 43,296 acres and is 75 percent contained.
  • The Fool Creek Fire, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, 30 miles Northwest of Choteau, is 60,000 acres and 15 percent contained. Containment is not expected until a season-ending event.
  • The Conger Creek Fire, Lolo National Forest, 20 miles north of Ovando along Highway 200, is at 19,000 acres and being managed as a Wildand Fire Use fire and monitored, not actively suppressed. (Click here to learn more about Wildand Fire Use.)

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 10 percent contained. The eastern entrance to the park is now open after being closed intermittently by the fire and then, last weekend, closed by a mudslide unrelated to 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 28,550 acres and, by Friday morning, it was 60 percent contained.

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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