News & Features

Open Burning Banned as Wildfires Plague Northwest Montana

Stage II fire restrictions will be enacted across Northwest Montana on Thursday

Updated Aug. 18, 3:25 p.m.

All open burning, including campfires, will be prohibited in the region starting Thursday as Northwest Montana endures the wrath of fire season.

The new restrictions are arriving as more wildfires flare up, including two new blazes on the Flathead National Forest near Essex. As of Tuesday morning, there were more than 80 fires burning around the region.

The Northern Rockies Coordination Group announced that Stage II fire restrictions would be put in place Aug. 20 at 12:01 a.m. The restrictions will be implemented on all Flathead, Lake, Lincoln and Sanders county lands, as well as state and federal lands. These restrictions apply to any lands outside of designated city limits, regardless of ownership.

The restrictions will remain in effect until there is a significant long-term change in fire danger, according to Lisa Osborn, fire prevention and education officer with the Forest Service.

The smallest spark has the potential to cause significant damage amid hot, dry conditions, Osborn said.

The restrictions prohibit any open burning, including campfires, and require that all motorized vehicles stay on designated roads and trails. It also requires that people only smoke cigarettes in areas cleared of flammable material. The operation of an internal combustion engine, such as a chainsaw, is prohibited from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. The use of blowtorches outside is also prohibited during those hours and anyone who does use internal combustion engines between 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. must patrol the area for at least one hour to ensure no fires have started.

The Thompson Fire remains the largest in the region, burning 13,680 acres in the heart of Glacier National Park. On Tuesday, the fire was actively burning in the Thompson and Nyack drainages, forcing the closure of numerous backcountry trails and campgrounds.

The fire is being managed by a Type II incident management team that is also working two new fires near Essex on the Flathead National Forest that were detected over the weekend.

The Granite Fire is about 27 acres and is located in the Great Bear Wilderness near Marias Pass south of U.S. Highway 2. The fire has forced the closure of the Granite Creek Trail.

The Sheep Creek Fire is also burning in the Great Bear Wilderness about 3 miles south of Essex. The fire has scorched 77 acres in steep terrain with difficult access. On Tuesday, smoke jumpers were constructing fire lines to try and contain the fire.

A public meeting about the Thompson-Divide Complex will be held on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex.

Elsewhere on the Flathead National Forest, three fires in the Spotted Bear Ranger District have torched more than 3,600 acres. The largest of them, the Trail Creek Fire, has burned 3,200 acres. Firefighters are trying to prevent it from crossing the Spotted Bear River Road and trail closures are in effect.

The Bear Creek Fire has burned 200 acres in the area of the Chipmunk Creek Fire of 2000. And the Flat Creek Fire has burned about 200 acres. Firefighters are mostly focusing their efforts on preventing the fire from spreading to important resources, although they are not actively suppressing it.

The Three Sisters Fire, which has smoldered deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness for more than a week, grew to more than 400 acres over the weekend. The lightning-caused fire is being allowed to play its natural role on the landscape.

Perhaps the most visible fires near the Flathead Valley are the ones burning within the Northeast Kootenai Complex, northwest of Whitefish. The largest, the Marston Fire, has burned more than 2,000 acres near Fortine.

Although there are no evacuations at this time, fire managers have identified areas that would be evacuated should the fire rapidly grow.

The Sunday Fire has burned about 160 acres on the Tally Lake Ranger District on both the Flathead and Kootenai national forests. Similar to the Marston Fire, officials expect the Sunday Fire to grow and an evacuation plan has been created.

Elsewhere within the Northeast Kootenai Complex, firefighters made progress on the Weigel and Dunn fires near Libby. As of Tuesday morning, both blazes are 100 percent contained.

On the Flathead Indian Reservation, the Melton 1 Fire has burned more than 3,000 acres west of Charlo. The fire started during Friday’s lightning storm and no structures are threatened at this time.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

Note: This map shows the approximate location of each fire. Not all fires are included. 

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