Firefighters Suppress Multiple Starts on Flathead National Forest

Fire danger shifts to 'very high' throughout the region as Glacier National Park responds to a small fire along Going-to-the-Sun Road and the Colt Fire in Seeley Lake grows by 50%

By Tristan Scott and Micah Drew
The smoke column from the Colt Fire seen from a firefighting camp. Courtesy photo

Flathead National Forest firefighters on Monday evening responded to a new fire start on Doris Mountain, one of several small fires that have ignited throughout the forest.

Kira Powell, public affairs officer for the Flathead National Forest, said resources to suppress the quarter-acre Doris Ridge Fire included a Chinook helicopter conducting water drops on Monday night. Officials reported no substantial growth overnight, Powell said. 

“We’re putting a lot of effort into containing this one,” she said. “We hope to have it contained and hopefully be calling it out in a couple of days.”

Across the forest as a whole, Powell said firefighters have responded to 10 fires in July, all less than 5 acres. Two of the recent fire starts occurred on the Tally Lake Ranger District, which crews have already contained, while a third near Olney and a fourth near Griffin Creek west of Kalispell similarly benefitted from an early and aggressive response, Powell said.

“And then there was another one in the Hungry Horse Ranger District with the same story — crews found it and suppressed it,” she said.

Powell said fire managers determined three fires were human-caused, five were natural while the causes of two other fires remain undetermined. Powell emphasized that the Flathead National Forest has bumped its fire danger to “very high” due to the warming temperatures and low humidity in the valley. She also cautioned that, although the region’s forests may appear greener than usual for this time of year, “the dead fuels on the ground are exceptionally dry.”

“Fortunately we have lots of resources right now, so we’re sitting pretty good for late July as far as resources are concerned,” Powell said.

Also on Monday, a small fire less than a tenth-acre in size was reported along Going-to-the-Sun Road near St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park. According to Gina Icenoggle, the park’s public information officer, the lightning-caused Ranger Fire is located 100 yards north of the Sun Road at the Reynold’s Fire pullout east of Logan Pass. A fire crew was on site suppressing the fire by 7:30 p.m. Monday night, she said. The crew included one engine and five staff. As of 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, the fire was declared “controlled” and moved to patrol status, according to Icenoggle.

“We have increased confidence that it won’t spread, but are unable to fully extinguish today due to winds,” Icenoggle said.

Down on the Flathead Indian Reservation, firefighters responded to a lightning-caused fire 5 miles east of Arlee on Monday evening. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe (CSKT) Division of Fire aggressively attacked the Big Knife Fire, initially estimated at 75 acres, with three helicopters, four fixed-wing air tankers and 10 smokejumpers. As of Tuesday morning, the fire has grown to an estimated 116 acres and crews expect extreme fire behavior due to high winds in the forecast.

A community meeting is scheduled for July 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlee Community Center to provide updates on the fire.

Meanwhile, the same storm responsible for Big Knife ignited the quarter-acre Mission Dam Fire on the western slopes of St. Mary’s Peak above Mission Dam. Currently, 10 smokejumpers are hiking into the fire zone, according to CT Camel with the CSKT Fire Division.

Wildland fire officials with the CSKT raised the fire danger within the Flathead Indian Reservation to “very high,” which means that dry grasses and needles ignite easily, fires can spread rapidly and may be difficult to control. There are currently no restrictions in place, but all residents and visitors are urged to use caution when outdoors. Avoid driving or parking in tall grass, never leave a campfire unattended and always use established fire rings.

Of the 40 actively burning fires in Montana, 19 were reported in the last 24 hours, according to the state’s wildfire dashboard.

A “Super Scooper” loading water to drop on the Colt Fire. Courtesy Photo

Colt Fire Adds 1,400 Acres

Firefighting crews near Seeley Lake continue to battle Montana’s largest active wildfire, the Colt Fire, which grew to 4,390 acres according to infrared flights conducted early Tuesday morning. The lightning-caused blaze saw growth mostly to the south and east, with some spotting close to Rainy Lake. There are currently 425 personnel assigned to the fire.

The Colt Fire mapped at 4,390 acres according to an overnight infrared flight.

Yesterday, fire crews completed an indirect control line along Forest Service Road 646, which was tested later in the afternoon as winds pushed the fire across a section of road and burned approximately six acres. Firefighters worked late into the evening to control several spot fires which also cross Road 646.

Today, heavy equipment crews will continue to build dozer lines on the south and eastern sides of the fire, and continue to remove fuel along forest service roads to create larger fuel breaks along the fire’s northern and southern ends. Helicopters and “Super Scooper” aircraft will be used to drop water on the fire as conditions allow.

“Essentially we’re trying to box in the south end, the east flank and the north end right now, because there’s where all our priorities are. That’s where our structures are, that’s where the highway corridor is and all the infrastructure,” said Northern Rockies Team 1 Operations Section Chief Andy James in an operational update Monday night.

Two structure protection groups are working to alert homeowners in the vicinity and determine how to protect any buildings that may become threatened. The Colt Fire is being managed with a full suppression strategy.

There will be a public meeting for the Colt Fire at 7 p.m. July 25 at Seeley Lake Elementary School, and at 7 p.m. July 26 at the Condon Community Center. The Seeley meeting will be streamed on the Colt Fire Facebook page.

The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office has evacuation orders and warnings in place, as follows:

  • Mile marker 31 (Beaver Creek Road at the intersection of Highway 83) south towards Seeley Lake to mile marker 27, and including residences in Rovero Flats, are under an Evacuation Order. 
  • Residents on Beaver Creek Road (near the summit) are under an Evacuation Warning. 
  • Residences beginning at mile marker 27 (south end of Rovero Flats) to mile marker 25.5 (the intersection of the West Fork of the Clearwater Road and Highway 83) are under an Evacuation Warning. 
  • Residences on the north and south ends of Lake Inez are under an Evacuation Warning. The east side of Lake Inez, along Highway 83, is not under any Warning or Order. 

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