Fire Danger Moves to ‘High’ in the Flathead

Type III team takes over management of Zulu Fire north of Libby

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

Updated: 4:30 p.m., July 18

Local wild land fire managers announced Wednesday that the fire danger had been elevated to “high” in the Flathead Valley as hot and dry weather continues to bake the region.

Further west, the fire danger on the Kootenai National Forest was raised to “very high” as firefighters there try and contain a 20-acre blaze north of Libby.

“Hot dry weather is forecasted for the foreseeable future and grasses have quickly begun to dry and cure,” officials said in a press release from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation announcing the elevated fire danger in the Flathead. “In addition, local firefighters have been called to assist as fire conditions in other areas of the country are extreme and requiring additional firefighting resources.”

Officials were asking local residents to be cautious when recreating outside, noting that about 75 percent of wildfires are human-caused. People should avoid parking vehicles in tall grass, never leave a campfire unattended and always make sure when hauling a boat or trailer that their chains are not dragging. Debris burning has been prohibited.

As of Wednesday morning, 80 firefighters and at least four aircraft were trying to contain the lightning caused Zulu Fire north of Libby. A Type III incident management team took command of the fire on Wednesday. The Zulu Fire is the first notable wildfire in Northwest Montana this season.

No structures are currently threatened by the fire but Kootenai National Forest spokesperson Willie Sykes says officials want to keep the blaze as small as possible.

Two firefighters were sent to the hospital late Tuesday, according to Sykes. One was suffering from heat exhaustion and the other was having cardiac-related issues. Both firefighters were treated and released from the hospital later that night.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s monthly outlook that was published on July 1, there is “significant wild land fire potential” for the Idaho panhandle and the Kootenai National Forest in July. That potential could spread into the rest of western Montana in August and September.