Hotshot Crews and Retardant Drops Help Reduce Ridge Fire’s Risk to Nearby Canyon Communities

Fire containment improves to 12% as fire managers prepare for a “critical fire weather pattern” with hot, dry and windy conditions forecast this week

By Maggie Dresser
Smoke from the Ridge Fire on Hungry Horse Reservoir on Aug. 4, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Relying on “active and robust” aerial firefighting that on Monday included retardant drops by four large air tankers, fire crews continued to gain ground on the southeastern and western edges of the Ridge Fire as containment grew to 12%. Meanwhile, hotshot crews cut direct attack handline on the north and west flanks of the 3,175-acre wildfire that ignited on July 30 outside of Hungry Horse.

Incident officials have prioritized the north and west sides of the fire to prevent its spread to structures and properties near Hungry Horse. California Interagency Incident Management Team 4 assumed control of the wildfire last week and hosted a public meeting last night, sharing updates with the Badrock Canyon community.

“We’ve made a lot of good progress over the last few days,” Operations Chief Drew Graham told the audience at Glacier Bible Camp. “The firefighters are working hard in rough ground over thick vegetation. We’re going through a lot of chainsaw fuel and bar oil trying to make this work.”

Hotshot crews helped extend the direct handline on the southern and western edge of the wildfire, despite challenging conditions in dense brush and vegetation. Mop up crews are also pushing 100 feet inside the fire line to prevent ignition of unburned fuels outside.

Graham said he anticipates the handline on the southern edge of the fire will be secured in the next few days and crews will focus on the north side of the fire.

“We want to take out the risk to the community, so we put all of horsepower and energy in there,” Graham said. “We really prioritize that side of the fire because we want to reduce the threat to the community.”

Yesterday, four large air tankers dropped loads of fire retardant on the east side of the wildfire and aerial resources will continue operations today with Scooper airplanes and helicopters dropping water directly on the fire.

Team 4 has also partnered with local firefighting agencies to form an indirect contingency line to Halfmoon Road in the event that the flames begin to threaten nearby communities. The line is nearing completion to the west of the fire as managers assess structures and help reduce the risk.

“This team came in and we have had exponential resources coming in every day, which makes us more and more confident that we have a better ability combat (this),” Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino said.

As a high-pressure weather system moves over the Flathead Valley, high temperatures in the mid-90s and low humidity levels will increase fire activity and produce more visible smoke from the east portion of the fire. Westerly winds are forecast for Thursday as the system begins to collapse, creating a “critical fire weather pattern” before more typical summer conditions return to the valley.

A pre-evacuation notice remains in effect from the east side of Spotted Bear Road to West Glacier.

Additionally, wildfires continue to burn in the Tin Soldier Complex, which has grown 71 acres and is now estimated to be 2,765 acres between the Bruce, Kah Mountain, and Sullivan fires. Crews are working to protect structures at the Spotted Bear Ranch, Diamond R Ranch, Spotted Bear Ranger Station compound and the Heinrude residential community.

Closures include the Hungry Horse Reservoir on both the east and west side roads, the front country of the Spotted Bear district and the Gorge Creek drainage within the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

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