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Fires Grow as Heat Wave Bakes Northwest Montana

NWS issues fire weather watch for Saturday

This story was last updated on Aug. 9. Click here for the latest wildfire news from Northwest Montana.

—Near record high temperatures forecast for western Montana through Friday

—Fire weather watch issued for Saturday

Community meeting about the Garden Creek Fire scheduled for Friday in Hot Springs 

Updated: Aug. 9, 3:30 p.m.

A combination of near record high temperatures and a windy Saturday have firefighters on edge across Northwest Montana.

The heat wave comes as at least four large fires burn across Northwest Montana, from the Flathead Indian Reservation to the Kootenai National Forest.

The National Weather Service in Missoula has issued a heat advisory for all of Northwest Montana from 3 p.m. Thursday until 9 p.m. Friday. The temperature is expected to hit 100 degrees in Kalispell on both days. The last time Kalispell hit triple digits was on Aug. 1, 2015 when the mercury hit 101. The record is 105 degrees set in August 1961.

This week’s heat will be followed by a cold front that will bring temperatures back to seasonal normals in the high 80s and low 90s but also bring winds to the area. The National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch for all of Northwest Montana from noon on Friday until 9 p.m. Saturday.

“The combination of having near record high temperatures and extremely dry conditions followed by a wind event is why we have issued a fire weather watch,” said Travis Booth, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “It’s a one-two punch.”

Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager Lincoln Chute said firefighters are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

“We’re always concerned when you get a weather event like this,” he said.

Earlier this week, the fire danger was elevated to “extreme” in the Flathead Valley. Despite the elevated concern, fire restrictions have not been put in place and campfires and other activities remain legal. Restrictions have been put in place in other areas, including the Kootenai National Forest and Lincoln County, which have been in Stage 1 restrictions since last month. Parts of Lake County and the Flathead Indian Reservation will enter Stage 2 fire restrictions on Friday.

Stage 1 fire restrictions prohibit campfires outside of designated recreation sites or smoking anywhere outside of an enclosed vehicle or building.

Stage 2 fire restrictions prohibit any and all campfires, smoking outside, operating a vehicle off road or use of a combustible engine, welding torch or explosives between 1 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Fire officials in the Flathead, including Flathead County, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park, said during a press conference on Wednesday that fire restrictions would be considered if the number of human-caused fires increased or if large wildfires stretched local resources thin.

Because of the concern about the heat wave followed by a windy weekend, additional fire fighting equipment is being brought into the Kalispell area.

As of Wednesday morning, two water scooper planes – CL215 “Super Scoopers” from Saskatchewan – and at least 12 helicopters were stationed locally in case a large fire started. Additionally, at least one locally based fire crew that was in California fighting fires there has been brought back to Montana where they will take rest and then be held here.

Although there are a number of small fires burning in the area, particularly on the Kootenai National Forest, two large fires — one near Lake Koocanusa and another on the Flathead Indian Reservation — seem to be giving firefighters the most trouble.

The Garden Creek Fire just north of Hot Springs topped 2,000 acres late Wednesday, a day after one house had to be evacuated as the fire exploded from 500 acres to 1,800 acres. The residents who evacuated were able to return home on Thursday after burnout operations were conducted to eliminate burnable fuels. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Fire Manager C.T. Camel said fire activity is expected to increase this afternoon as the temperatures rise and the humidity drops. Approximately 180 firefighters are currently assigned to the fire. A local Type 3 incident management team are coordinating firefighting efforts. A community meeting is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 10 at 10 a.m. at the Hot Springs Senior Citizen Center where fire managers will be available to give the public an update about the fire and answer questions. 

On the east side of Lake Koocanusa, the Ten Mile Fire grew to 663 acres on Wednesday. The fire is currently 15 percent contained. A Type 2 incident management team is coordinating firefighting efforts and 285 people have been assigned to the blaze.

The Davis Fire, in the extreme northwest corner of the Kootenai National Forest, has burned 375 acres as of Wednesday. The Brownstone Fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness was listed at 366 acres.

This story will be updated when additional information becomes available.