Firefighters Make Progress in ‘Record Heat’ on Ridge Fire

Crews report success in preventing the wildfire’s spread to the west and will shift their focus to its eastern flanks; an Air Quality Alert is in effect for Flathead and Lake counties

By Maggie Dresser
The sun rises through smoke from the Ridge Fire over the Coram Experimental Forest in Martin City on Aug. 4, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As record heat in the mid-90s continues to intensify the conditions of wildfires burning in the Flathead National Forest, officials say fire crews are successfully preventing the spread of the Ridge Fire to nearby communities in Bad Rock Canyon on the west side of the blaze as they shift their focus to the east.

Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued an Air Quality Alert for Flathead, Lake and Missoula counties. Increased fire activity has produced smoke across the region while northerly winds have brought smoke into Montana from Canadian wildfires. Despite those smoky conditions, aircraft were able to support crews on the ground to hold the Ridge Fire burning near Hungry Horse Reservoir in its current footprint.

Fire managers say there was some fire growth on the Ridge Fire’s eastern flanks toward Hungry Horse Mountain yesterday in the hot, dry and windy conditions, with latest estimates pegging the fire at 3,348 acres.

“We are shifting resources from the west side to the east side and we’re working aggressively to get that east side under containment,” California Interagency Incident Management Team 4 Operations Chief Drew Graham said in an Aug. 17 update. The fire is currently 15% contained.

On Thursday, hand crews and dozers were constructing new lines on the west side while aircrafts will continue to hold the fire in check. Firefighters were also able to create an anchor point that allowed them to start building a control line on the southeast side of the fire.

On the south, west and north sides of the fire, crews were able to strengthen lines, install hose lays and mop up areas.

As firefighters continue to make progress, teams have also been working in the Research Natural Area (RNA) designated as the Coram Experimental Forest near Desert Mountain in a thick, densely forested area.

Officials say the 7,500-acre area established in 1933 for western larch regeneration and management research has not seen any significant wildfire history in the last century and activities like camping, firewood collection and campfires are not permitted in the experimental forest to minimize disturbance for future studies. The region is home to late-successional western larch and Douglas-fir stands that are more than 200 years old.

A map of the Ridge Fire and Doris Point Fire on the Flathead National Forest. Courtesy image

Additionally, the nearby Doris Point fire on the west side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir has grown to 763 acres, which created visible smoke columns from Columbia Falls to West Glacier.

After the California Interagency Incident Management Team 4 assumed control of the Ridge Fire last week, the team has also taken over management of the Doris Point fire as of Aug. 16.

“It was active a little bit yesterday and we continue to use local resources to get structure protection in place around the campgrounds and infrastructure that supports those campgrounds,” Graham said. “So far, there are no fire impacts.”

Kira Powell, public information officer for the Flathead National Forest, said the lightning-caused fire ignited on July 30 and after initial attack, the wildfire stayed calm over the last two weeks.

In a remote location on a 90-degree slope in the Swan Range with no road access, Powell said aerial teams have conducted bucket drops to slow its spread but ground crews were not utilized.

“It’s very dangerous for crews given its location,” Powell said.

Following high winds over the past few days, the wildfire spread to the east toward the Hungry Horse Reservoir.

“We are allocating resources as they are available while balancing the Ridge Fire,” Powell said.

The Hungry Horse Reservoir is closed to all public access, including both the east and west side roads. As firefighting efforts continue on the Ridge Fire, the Tin Soldier Complex, and other fires in the area, the closure is in place to provide for public and firefighter safety.

The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 9 issued a pre-evacuation notice that remains in place from the east side of Spotted Bear Road to West Glacier.

Other nearby active wildfires in the region include the Bruce and Sullivan fires east of Swan Lake.

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