Firefighters, Aided by 600,000 Gallons of Water Air Drops, Slow the Elmo Fire

A community meeting about the Elmo fire is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday night at the Elmo powwow grounds off Highway 93

By Mike Kordenbrock
A water scooping aircraft refills in Flathead Lake near Elmo on August 3, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Despite red flag warning conditions on Thursday, the human-caused Elmo fire grew just 566 acres by Friday and is estimated to be 21,182 acres in size and 15% contained.

By 8:30 p.m. Thursday firefighters had been able to hold the fire south of Lake Mary Ronan with the assistance of scooper planes that dropped an estimated 600,000 gallons of water over the fire to slow its progression forward as it backed downhill toward the lake. The slowed progress of the fire also gave firefighters more time to work on mitigating and preparing structures, and improving lines in the area.

“We’ve been fortunate to have lake and water resources so close, so they’re able to make really quick turnarounds,” said Kelli Roemer, a public information officer with the incident management team. “Having this level of air resources available is very unusual.”

Air resources on the fire include six scooper airplanes and three helicopters.

Most of the acreage increases on the fire by Friday were in the northern portion near Lake Mary Ronan. Elsewhere, the incident management team on the fire reports that the fire remained within its footprint overnight. Speaking at about 1:30 p.m. Friday, Roemer said the fire was close to Camp Tuffit Road along the southeast portion of the lake.

Roemer explained that the containment gains on the fire were primarily because of firefighters cleaning up lines along the fire’s edge, which has brought down the size of the fire perimeter.

The eastern and western edges of the fire have been “fairly stable,” but until heat near those edges is extinguished, containment probably won’t be reported in those areas, according to Roemer.

The fire is currently threatening 250 structures. So far eight structures, including at least four primary residences, have been destroyed by the Elmo fire. No injuries have been reported so far from the fire. As of Aug. 4, the firefighting costs had reached $7 million. A total of 482 personnel were assigned to the fire as of Friday morning, but more have been ordered and people continued to arrive on Friday, likely bringing the number above 500 personnel.

Firefighters were expecting winds to decrease throughout the day on Friday. Those winds were forecasted to come from the southwest before slowly shifting east and northeast and blowing between 5 and 10 miles per hour. Humidity is expected to remain low, and there is no precipitation in the long-term forecast. Temperatures on Friday are expected to be in the 70s and low 80s.

Evacuation orders remain in place for everyone residing north and south of Lake Mary Ronan Road, and all who live along Lake Mary Ronan. Prior evacuation orders and pre-evacuation warnings remained in effect Friday. Earlier this week officials estimated 150 residences had been ordered to evacuate and 100 were in pre-evacuation status.

Closures include the boat ramp at the Elmo Fishing Access site and Lake Mary Ronan State Park. The Flathead Indian Reservation and Lake County are currently under Stage 1 Fire Restrictions.

On Friday firefighters plan to continue reinforcing and securing lines around the most active portions of the fire south of Lake Mary Ronan. On the eastern and western sides, firefighters will work to limit fire growth, and secure lines. The Type 2 Northern Rockies Team 7 incident management team reported Friday morning that continuous fire lines were holding near Cromwell Creek to the west, and structure protection resources remain in place on the east. The southern edge of the fire along Highway 28 remains contained, and in patrol status.  

 A community meeting about the Elmo fire is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday night at the Elmo powwow grounds off Highway 93.

Gov. Greg Gianforte surveyed the Elmo fire area and was briefed by incident command Friday morning, according to an email sent out by his office.

“At more than 21,000 acres, the Elmo fire is the most significant fire Montana has faced this year and the top priority fire in the state,” Gianforte said in an emailed statement. “I’m encouraged by the optimism of incident command as we head into the weekend, and am grateful to the over 500 personnel responding to protect lives and property.”

 The governor went on to urge people to follow local fire restrictions, recreate safely, and prepare their homes and communities for wildfire. The email from Gianforte’s office noted that the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation had seen fire activity in Montana increase significantly last week, and that most of those fires were human-caused fires.

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