500-Acre Fire Forces Temporary Evacuations Near St. Ignatius

Fire started Thursday afternoon near U.S. Highway 93

By Justin Franz
A wildfire burns near the National Bison Range outside St. Ignatius. Courtesy Photo

Updated: July 1, 12 p.m.

A fast-moving grassfire forced a temporary evacuation near St. Ignatius on Thursday night in a dramatic opening to the 2016 fire season in Northwest Montana.

The fire was first reported around 6 p.m. along U.S. Highway 93 between Ravalli and St. Ignatius, according to Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire Spokesperson CT Camel. As of Friday morning, the fire has burned about 500 acres, including about 50 acres of timber.

Camel said at least 50 firefighters are working on the blaze and that a dozer line had been constructed to keep it from growing.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but officials believe it was human caused.

Shortly after the fire was first reported, the Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch was evacuated as a precaution, with about 90 people seeking shelter at a nearby church. Pinehaven Founder and Associate Director Bob Larsson said while some people were evacuated, a handful stayed behind to dig a dozer line and protect the ranch.

“They put in a fire line and they prayed,” Larsson said.

The fire stopped short of the ranch property, and by Friday morning people were allowed to return home.

Warm temperatures and dry conditions have fire officials worried about the growing potential for wildfire across Northwest Montana. On July 1, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation announced that interagency fire managers increased the local fire danger to moderate.

Fire managers have said conditions are considerably better this year than last year when the first large fire of the summer sparked in late June. However, they said rain received in June could give people “a false sense of security.”

People are being urged to use caution if they plan on using fireworks or having a campfire over the holiday weekend.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.