Rapidly Growing Fire Forces Evacuations in Libby

Fires force evacuations all across Northwest Montana from Lincoln County to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation

By Justin Franz
The Sheep Fire burns near Essex on Aug. 21, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Updated Aug. 29 12:40 p.m.

A rapidly moving wildfire just south of Libby has forced the evacuation of about 20 homes near U.S. Highway 2 on Saturday morning.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office ordered the evacuation of all homes along Lower Granite Lake Road, Granite Creek Road, Willow Road, Prospect Creek Road, Winchester Drive and Granite Lake Road as the lightning-sparked Klatawa Fire chewed through timber nearby. The fire had burned more than 1,900 acres as of Saturday morning.

The sheriff’s office was asking all residents in the area to be out of their homes by 1 p.m. Saturday. A pre-evacuation notice has also been issued for all homes and businesses west of U.S. Highway 2, south of Pearl Street near the Atkins South Gas Station.

A shelter has been established at the Assembly of God Church at 105 Collins Avenue in Libby.

The Klatawa Fire is part of the Goat Rock Complex, which includes seven fires southeast of Libby in the Kootenai National Forest. The complex has burned approximately 4,492 acres as of Saturday morning.

Officials say they are concerned about afternoon winds pushing the fire toward homes on Libby’s south side. The National Weather Service in Missoula has issued a Red Flag Warning for all of western Montana.

On the other side of the mountains, an evacuation order for the community of Heart Butte was still in effect the morning after a massive fire moved on to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

The Spotted Eagle Fire, part of the Family Peak Complex, blew up Friday evening and pushed its way east out of the Badger-Two Medicine area. Shortly after 6 p.m., the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council issued an evacuation order for Heart Butte and the surrounding area. A Red Cross Shelter has been set up in Browning at 80 Heart Butte Road. A community meeting will be held there Saturday at 4 p.m.

As of Saturday morning, it’s still unclear how many acres the fire had burned. Tribal officials said they were working with local, state and federal agencies to bring in additional resources over the weekend.

Firefighters near Essex were bracing for another busy day on the Sheep Fire. As of Saturday morning, the fire has burned 1,595 acres, threatening more than 200 structures, BNSF Railway’s main line to the Pacific Northwest and U.S. Highway 2. The community was evacuated late this week and on Saturday morning U.S. Highway 2 remained closed. BNSF and Amtrak were running trains when it was safe to do so. Firefighters have been trying to prepare the community of Essex should the fire make a major run here in the coming days and they are especially concerned about spot fires.

Two other fires in the Thompson-Divide Complex are also burning. As of Saturday morning, the Thompson Fire in Glacier National Park had burned 17,857 acres and the Granite Fire had burned more than 700 acres near Marias Pass.

Other notable fires in the region today include the Marston Fire, which as of Saturday morning had scorched 6,000 acres near Fortine. It was reported to be 10 percent contained.

The Bear Creek Fire on the Flathead National Forest remains the largest blaze in the state, having chewed through more than 40,000 acres of land on the Spotted Bear Ranger District. Nearby, the Trail Creek Fire has burned more than 13,000 acres. As of Saturday, there were at least 22 active fires on the Spotted Bear Ranger District and the Flathead National Forest had closed off vast swaths of the Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wilderness areas.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

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