Wind-Fueled Blazes Keep Firefighters Busy

Firefighters trying to wrangle two large fires following Tuesday’s windstorm

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

The Latest 

-Deer Run Fire burns 40 acres near Foy’s Lake

-Three small fires reported on Flathead National Forest

-At least 700 Flathead Electric Cooperative members still without power early Wednesday

Updated: Oct. 18, 4:45 p.m.

Firefighters are trying to get a handle on two large wildfires following a Tuesday windstorm that brought gusts of 60 to 70 miles per hour across Northwest Montana.

There were at least eight reported fires on the Montana Department of Natural Resource and Conservation’s Kalispell District on Tuesday, according to spokesperson Nicole Stickney.

The Deer Run Fire has burned 40 acres near Foy’s Lake and was 75 percent contained as of Wednesday afternoon. Sheriff Chuck Curry said no pre-evacuation warnings were issued but officials were keeping a close eye on the fire due to its proximity to town. The cause of the fire is under investigation, although officials said slash piles that escaped or downed power lines caused most of the fires.

“Once the wind died down last night so to did the fire,” Curry said Wednesday morning.

The Twin Lake Fire near Marion has burned 300 acres as of Wednesday afternoon. The fire was started by an uncontrolled slash pile and was first reported Monday.

Numerous spot fires were also reported late Tuesday as the result of downed power lines, according to Curry.

“We had a lot of spot fires around town but those are not much of an issue this morning because the local fire departments did a good job of getting on top of those quickly,” he said.

Rick Connell, Fire Management Officer on the Flathead National Forest, said there were at least three small wildfires on U.S. Forest Service land, including two on the Tally Lake Ranger District and one on the Spotted Bear Ranger District. He also said that there was a prescribed burn on Blacktail Mountain that jumped its containment lines late Tuesday afternoon.

Two fires were reported on the Kootenai National Forest, according to spokesperson Willie Sykes. The Yaak River Fire was sparked by downed power lines north of Troy and has burned 20 acres as of Wednesday morning. The South Hill Fire near Trout Creek has burned 5 acres. The cause of that fire remains under investigation.

In Glacier National Park, wind gusts knocked down numerous trees that crews are clearing Wednesday morning.

“There are plenty of trees down in multiple areas on the west side,” Glacier Park spokesperson Lauren Alley said.

A tree crashed down on one unoccupied vehicle on the west side, Alley said. The wind gusts did not cause any new fire activity and the Sprague Fire continues to smolder, Alley said.

Tuesday’s wind knocked out power for more than 12,000 Flathead Electric Cooperative members. As of Wednesday morning, about 700 members, mostly in the U.S. Highway 2 corridor near Essex, were still in the dark as crews tried to restore power.

Wind gusts hit 74 mph from Polebridge to Libby at 4 p.m., and approached 60 mph in Polson. Gusts exceeded 55 mph in Kalispell.

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