Fire crews successfully held the Stoner Creek wildfire in Lakeside at 100 acres on Monday afternoon and firefighters are continuing to contain the blaze as of Tuesday, according to forest managers. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
“Yesterday was really successful,” Flathead National Forest Public Information Officer Wade Muehlhof said. “We had three helicopters pounding it with water.”
The Stoner Creek fire in Lakeside was reported Sunday and quickly grew to 91 acres that evening. On Monday, U.S. Forest Service officials were concerned that dry fuels, hot weather and unpredictable winds would cause the fire to blow up. Although there were 30 mile-per-hour winds gusts late in the afternoon, Muehlhof said local topography shielded the fire.
“It was warm, but it wasn’t hot. The weather was better than predicted,” he said.
More than 70 firefighters are working the fire today and Muehlhof said operations could wind down by Wednesday. Ground crews will continue to coordinate helicopter water drops throughout the day. The fire is about a quarter mile away from structures.
Gov. Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency for 31 counties as gusting winds spread wildfires in western Montana on Tuesday, a day after destroying an undetermined number of homes west of Lolo.
Bullock signed the executive order declaring the emergency Monday for a broad swath of counties in western, northern and southeastern Montana, all under fire threat but only a few of which are burning.
The rapidly spreading fires west of Lolo are a game changer that promises to stretch resources thin, Bullock told the Missoulian in a story published Tuesday.
Additional state resources are needed to reinforce the state’s initial attack capabilities, Bullock’s order said, and the declaration allows the use of National Guard resources from personnel to helicopters.
Wind gusts of 40 mph to 50 mph pushed two lightning-caused fires to a combined 5,000 acres, or nearly 8 square miles, by Tuesday morning near Lolo in southwestern Montana.
The fires burned several structures, including an unknown number of homes and caused residents to flee. Voluntary evacuations were recommended for residents from Bear Creek Road to Sleeman road, KECI-TV reported.
No injuries were reported. A shelter was established at Christ the King Church in Missoula.
Missoula County authorities were searching for a man who went berry picking near Lolo Creek on Monday just before the fires spread into the area, the Missoulian reported.
Mark Hannah, 60, became disoriented and was separated from a friend as the two headed back because of the thickening smoke, sheriff’s spokeswoman Paige Pavalone said.
Hannah’s friend made it to a dirt road and a sheriff’s deputy drove him home, but Hannah has not been heard from since, Pavalone said.
U.S. Highway 12 was closed to all except residents and emergency personnel from Lolo to the Idaho line. Officers were stopping vehicles and checking identifications, allowing residents through to check their property or help neighbors.
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