Fire Activity Closes Montana Highway 28

Dry lightning from an early morning storm sparked multiple fires on the Flathead Indian Reservation

By Micah Drew
Smoke from the Niarada Fire burning along Highway 28 west of Elmo occludes the sun over Flathead Lake as viewed from Somers on July 30, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A lightning-sparked fire reported early Sunday morning crossed Montana Highway 28 approximately 11 miles west of Elmo, prompting officials to close the roadway to traffic from mile post 22 to 46 on Sunday afternoon.

The Niarada Fire was roughly 5 acres when it was detected on July 30, and had grown to around 200 acres by Sunday evening. Firefighters responded with four single-engine air tankers, one helicopter, and three fire boss single-engine air tankers. As of Sunday afternoon, 18 smokejumpers were managing the fire, which crossed the highway to the west. The emergency road closure begins at the intersection with U.S. Highway 93 and ends just north of Hot Springs.

According to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Division of Fire, the Niarada fire was just one of a handful sparked overnight in the Mission Valley by dry lighting storms. Resources are currently responding to three new fires and crews are patrolling for other potential starts.

The Middle Ridge Fire is burning approximately 500 acres southwest of Sloan’s Bridge. Two large air tankers are responding with six water tenders and six skidgens. The fire is burning in grass and timber in steep terrain.

North of Dixon in Ferry Basin, the Communication Butte Fire is burning approximately 255 acres. The fire is burning in grass and timber towards Flathead River and a 20 person crew is responding. The terrain is very steep and difficult to access. The Bison Range is temporarily closed due to fire activity.

No structures are threatened at this time near the new fire starts. No evacuations are ordered.

Firefighters continue to work on the Big Knife Fire east of Arlee. More than 100 personnel are fighting the blaze, which was estimated at 721 acres on Sunday. While several homes in the area were put under evacuation warnings over the weekend, no evacuation orders have been issued. To sign up for emergency alerts for Lake County click here. To sign up for emergency alerts with Missoula County go to https://www.missoulacounty.us/…/emergency-preparedness.

There will be a community meeting at 6 p.m. on July 30 at the Arlee Tribal Community Center to provide updates on the Big Knife Fire. EDITOR’S NOTE, 5:45 P.M., THIS MEETING HAS BEEN CANCELED.

A Red Flag Warning is also forecasted for this afternoon beginning at 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. tonight. High wind gusts and low humidity is expected, which is likely to result in increased fire activity.

The public is advised to be aware of emergency vehicles on roadways. In addition, please note that very dry grasses can be easily ignitable.

This article was updated at 6 p.m. to reflect the latest size estimates, meeting cancellation and other information.