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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Dozens Of Fires Flare Up In The Flathead

A Smokey Bear model stands next to a sign reading "fire danger very high today."
Josh Burnham
22 new fires have started in the Flathead National Forest Since August 11, 2015.

Since August 11, there have been 22 new fire starts in the Flathead National Forest. At present there are no road or trail closures and no structures are threatened. Of the 22 fires, four are declared out.

The largest fires are the Addition Creek, Late Creek and Bear Creek fires - currently at 135 acres on the Spotted Bear Ranger District.

Flathead National Forest is under Stage 1 Fire Restrictions. Campfires are only allowed in designated campgrounds that have metal fire rings.

Ema Braunberger is Public Information Officer for the Flathead National Forest.

"We are anticipating lightning and more winds today, and this afternoon through tonight we are keeping our fingers crossed it isn’t a big impact, but we’re laying low and waiting for it to come through to see what happens. Then we’ll be out again to see what transpired through the night."

Braunberger says all the fire starts are proving challenging for staff on the Flathead.

"There is a crew sitting read to go, we are pretty thin on resources. We try to send in initial attack, we try to send 2-4 people out to go size it up and see what additional resources we have, but right now we just don’t have any."

There are so many fires burning around northwest Montana that the Flathead Forest Service crews are spread thin. They are using a kind of fire militia to help combat the fires.

"You know our wildlife biologist, its like they are firefighter trained, they sit up and fight fires, then they put on a different hat and come back and be a biologist, and then they’ll go out and fight a fire. The militia wears many hats within the agency."

In Glacier National Park, the Thompson Fire is now estimated at 14,900 acres  in size, with 0 percent containment.

A cold front moving in this this afternoon is bringing increasing winds and possible strong thunderstorms. A Red Flag Warning for fire behavior is in effect in the area until midnight. Strong winds will first come from a southerly direction,? turning westerly behind the front. Strong thunderstorms capable of gusty winds and hail are also expected.

Cooler weather and higher humidity are expected Saturday, with a return to seasonal conditions Sunday.

On the Thompson Fire in Glacier National Park, strong winds as well as the remote location of the fire continue to limit firefighter access, says John Moor, a Public Information officer for the Thompson Fire.

"When the smoke is too thick they can’t get over it, and the high winds also, in the deep rocky mountainous terrain, have an effect on helicopter fighters. So they have to go in there only on a limited basis when the winds are right."

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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