Cooler Weather Helps Fire Crews Battle Blazes

Seasonal change in weather brings cooler temperatures, more precipitation, allowing firefighters to attack fires

By Molly Priddy
Fall colors along the North Fork Flathead River. Beacon File Photo

Fire crews in many areas of western Montana braced for cooler, wetter weather as fall continues to move into the state and subdue active wildfires.

The National Weather Service in Missoula predicted snow in elevations higher than 5,000 feet for most of the Northern Rockies due to a strong cold front pushing its way into the area.

Cool, breezy, and showery conditions are expected from the front, NWS said, with mixed rain, snow, and graupel showers in the valleys. However, the cold front brings winds with it, particularly an issue on ridge tops.

A second cold front, expected to enter the region on Wednesday, is expected to bring more rain and mountain snow, with showery and colder-than-normal conditions extending into the weekend.

The weather is welcome respite for fire crews still battling blazes around the state, though the added wind could pose another challenge.

Highway 200 Complex

The Highway 200 Complex of fires experienced little growth on Sunday thanks to the weather, though the Sheep Gap Fire still burns two miles west of Plains. Evacuations for Swamp Creek Road from Four Corners to the East and West fork of Swamp Creek remain in place. Members of the Montana Army National Guard are assisting with road closures, pre-evacuations, evacuations, and any other assistance that may be needed.

The Deep Creek and Miller Creek fires were held to the east of Deep Creek, and crews were devising ways to tempt the fire down an old road system to keep it from destroying homes. The Cub Creek Fire received attention from Canadian CL-415s, which dropped about 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of water near Helwick Peak. Firefighters were able to use fire to establish a control line. The Reader Fires saw no change in activity.

Glacier National Park

A tender sprays water on vegetation near the Lake McDonald Lodge as the Sprague Fire burns in Glacier National Park on Sept. 7, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

In Glacier National Park, infrared flight crews were grounded due to weather over the weekend, which dropped about 1/10th of an inch of rain in West Glacier Monday morning. The last time West Glacier saw that amount of precipitation was 38 days prior. Smoke will continue to be visible from the park’s fires. An evacuation order remains in place from the south end of Lake McDonald north to Logan Pass, including North McDonald Road. The duration of the evacuation is still unknown.

The Sprague Fire continues to burn at 16,790 acres. Active surface fire burned through heavy pockets of fuel on Sunday, as helicopters dropped water on the most active portions of the fire along the northern end. The southern end continues to hold north of Walton and Lincoln creeks. Structure protection continues at the Lake McDonald Lodge and area, and the Wheeler Cabin and Mt. Brown Lookout have been wrapped. Crews will continue structure assessments in Apgar Village.

The Adair Peak Fire, about 18 miles north/northwest of West Glacier, saw minimal fire activity over the weekend, with most growth on the northeast and east edges burning into the old Wolf Gun fire. Fire threats to Patrol Cabins has diminished, and the wrap will be removed from the Upper Patrol Cabin, and water-handling equipment will be prepped for removal.

The Elder Creek Fire, about 40 miles north of West Glacier, has minimal fire activity, with 282 acres burned in Glacier Park and 2,574 burned total.

Eureka Area

A sign hung on a fence in West Kootenai on Sept. 10, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Outside of Eureka, the Caribou Fire saw minimal activity thanks to the weather. Mop-up work is complete on the east and southeast edges of the fire near West Kootenai. The fire continues to burn on 24,743 acres, and is about 50 percent contained. Moderate activity over the weekend showed the fire backing and creeping, though significant growth is not expected.

The Gibralter Ridge Fire had minimal movement down the Whale Creek drainage, and firefighters continue to remove fuels along Grave Creek Road. Grave Creek Road and the Ten Lakes Recreation area are closed above the Grave Creek/Foothills Road junction. The Weasel Fire moved little over the weekend due to the weather, and no private property or structures are threatened.

Fire activity can change quickly, so visit for daily and hourly (if needed) updates on fire season.

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