Extreme Winds Cause Widespread Power Outages, Fuel New Wildfires

More than 12,600 residents have lost power in Northwest Montana

By Beacon Staff
A helicopter flies above a fire near Smith Valley on Oct. 17, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Updated: Oct. 17, 6 p.m.

Extreme winds whipped across Northwest Montana Tuesday afternoon, causing widespread power outages for more than 12,600 residents while simultaneously fanning several wildfires around the area.

The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for the area, forecasting widespread wind speeds of 30 to 70 mph in higher elevations and possibly along the valley floor. Wind gusts hit 74 mph from Polebridge to Libby at 4 p.m., and approached 60 mph in Polson. Gusts exceeded 54 mph in Kalispell.

Wendy Ostrom Price, spokesperson for Flathead Electric Cooperative, said more than 12,600 members are impacted by more than 150 separate outages, including Whitefish, Columbia Falls and the West Valley area.

“It really is impacting members across our service territory,” she said. “The outages began just before 2 p.m. in Libby with strong southwest winds and they have just been spreading … It’s pretty spread out across our entire territory.”

FEC’s entire fleet of repair crews are hurrying to fix the outages, which were caused by trees falling on power lines.

“Our crews are working hard to restore power quickly and safely,” FEC said in an online post. “Please remember to stay safe — never touch or drive over a downed power line, but if you see one, report it to the Co-op right away.”

The NWS said heavy winds would continue blowing until 7 p.m. before decreasing into the night.

A tree split in Kalispell’s Depot Park during the extreme wind event. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

According to Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager Lincoln Chute, firefighters are responding to at least 10 different fires across the county this afternoon. Chute said the fires were caused by a combination of downed power lines and slash piles fanned by the winds. No structures are threatened at this time.

The Deer Run Fire near Foy’s Lake had burned 40 acres by 5:30 p.m., according to Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokesperson Ali Ulwelling. Multiple engines and a helicopter were responding to the fire.

The winds also fanned the 80-acre Lower Twin Fire that started on Monday on Weyerhaeuser and Flathead National Forest land near Marion. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

To view FEC’s outage map, visit http://outage.flathead.coop:8181/

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