Weekend Winds Bring Mixed Results on Montana Fires

By Beacon Staff

Montana fires had an active weekend, but for the most part, containment lines held through — in some places — red-flag winds.

Most of the weekend action came in Western Montana, namely on the fires south of Missoula. On the Sawmill Complex south of I-90 and the Rock Creek area, the Fisher Point fire flared up Saturday on its east flank, prompting the Granite County Sheriff to call for mandatory evacuations in the upper Willow Creek area.

The entire complex, made up of four fires, is now 56,400-acres, up from 55,000 Saturday morning. It had — like all other fires in this part of the state — been quiet all week. It is up to 15 percent contained.

Near Wisdom, the 20,036-acre Rat Creek fire, threw up smoke plumes Saturday and Sunday mostly from activity within the interior of the fire. It is 15 percent contained.

“When we flew this morning, we found out that we were in better shape than we thought after the intense burning we experienced yesterday,” Incident Commander Mike Quesinberry said in a release Sunday. “The fire did advance on the southeast corner somewhat, but we have a lot of roads that are helping corral it. We were fortunate that we had a couple of days to get in firelines before it moved in that direction.”

Fire managers lifted the North Fork Ranch evacuation order and returned the ranch to Stage 1 precautionary evacuation notice. Several other ranches and the Big Hole National Battlefield are also being monitored and are on pre-evacuation notice.

West of the Rat Creek fire, the Rombo fire west of Connor in the Bitterroot Valley also smoked up Saturday, sending two columns of smoke over the valley. The Rombo fire is now 20,697 acres and infrared flights showed a 900-acre growth over the weekend. Spotting was reported both on the northwest corner near Shook Mountain and the eastern side in the Three Forks area, but there was little growth on the perimeter of the fire. The Stage I pre-evacuation alert from Warm Springs Creek to Conner west of Highway 93 has been expanded by the Ravalli County Sheriff to include everything south of the Conner Cutoff Road and up West Fork Road to the Trapper Creek Job Corps Center.

Northwest of Missoula, the Black Cat fire near Evaro got active again as well Saturday afternoon, but crews held containment lines on all sides and Sunday, fire behavior was minimal.

As of 6 a.m. Monday, the one-hour preparedness notice will be lifted for all areas of the fire. Traffic check points will still be staffed at the Helibase off Hwy 93 and the A1000 road. Fire officials are reminding residents that there may still be smoldering debris on their property where the fire burned.

Burnouts were successful Friday and so far, the fire is at 11,754 acres and is up to 60 percent contained.

On the Jocko Lakes fire west of Seeley Lake, red-flag conditions were predicted again Sunday after gusts of up to 45 miles per hour hit the fire Saturday. All lines held through the wind Saturday, even the containment lines on the southeast side of the fire — the closest to the Placid Lake area. The fire is still mapped at 34,980 acres and 38 percent contained. There are 1,052 people working on the fire.

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