Thompson Falls Fire Heats Up; Crews Wrangle Lakeside Blaze

Copper King Fire remains largest wildfire in the state, scorching more than 24,000 acres near Thompson Falls

By Justin Franz
Flathead Hotshots work the Bierney Creek Fire near Lakeside on Aug. 24, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Latest

-Copper King Fire burns 24,700 acres near Thompson Falls

-More than 780 personnel assigned to fire

-Public meeting scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at Sanders County Fairgrounds in Plains

While Labor Day Weekend may signal the end of summer, firefighters across western Montana are still busy with blazes from the Bitterroot to the Flathead.

The Copper King Fire near Thompson Falls remains the largest wildfire in the state, having scorched more than 24,700 acres by Aug. 29. The fire was 15 percent contained and more than 780 personnel were busy trying to build a fire line around the blaze, which is burning in Lolo National Forest just north of Montana Highway 200.

“It’s going to be a hot and dry week,” said Fire Information Officer Mike Cole with the Type I Incident Management Team. “This fire isn’t going to go away anytime soon.”

Cole said firefighters were having a hard time battling the blaze because of its location in steep and rocky terrain. Officials are especially concerned about the fire spreading into the Weeksville Drainage on its southeastern flank. Cole said even if firefighters do get a line around the entire blaze, officials expect the fire to burn for weeks because of all the unburned fuel within the fire area.

As of Aug. 29, 45 homes near the fire were still evacuated and 130 residences were being told to be ready to leave the area should the fire suddenly grow.

A Type I Incident Management Team was overseeing the firefighting effort.

Numerous U.S. Forest Service roads and trails in and around the fire have been closed since it started on July 31. On Aug. 29, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks announced that the Thompson River Drainage and all tributary drainages south of the Historic Bend Ranger Station would be closed to hunting. The closure impacts 80 percent of Hunting District No. 122.

Farther north near Lakeside, firefighters were continuing to mop up the Bierney Creek Fire. As of Aug. 29, the fire was 90 percent contained. The fire was first reported on Aug. 22 and quickly scorched 60 acres within a few hours. Because it was burning close to homes, firefighters were quick to attack the blaze from the ground and from the air. Although some residents left the area due to the fire, there were never any mandatory evacuations.

Warm and dry conditions were forecasted for the early part of the week before cool weather arrives for the Labor Day Weekend.

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