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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 25, 2015

Peggy Miller, InciWeb
A firefighter on the Thompson Fire in Glacier National Park

For the latest air quality information for Montana, click on this link to the state Department of Environmental Quality's wildfire smoke updates page.

The Sheep Fire continues to threaten Essex. It is burning about a mile south of Essex at this time.

An update from the Forest Service this morning says:

“Increased fire activity was not seen yesterday as expected due to the inversion, with thick smoke keeping the area from heating up. Up to 70 firefighters were transported across the river to the fire area on a BNSF work train. Crews built fuel breaks in the McDonald Creek Drainage to the north. Today they will create fireline from the railroad west up the Sheep Creek Drainage, supported by helicopters if not hindered by low visibility. Logging equipment has been ordered to remove fuels from the area. Logs being removed will be taken out by train to a safe location. Goals are to keep this fire from going north towards Essex and moving into the transportation corridor along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The night shift continues to monitor fire movement.”

A public meeting is scheduled for tonight at the Izaak Walton Lodge in Essex at 8pm. Representatives from the Incident Management Team will provide information on the Sheep Fire and the two others in the Thompson-Divide Complex, which are the Granite Fire on the Flathead National Forest and Thompson Fire inside Glacier National Park.

The Clark Fork Complex consists of six fires located on the Kootenai National Forest in Montana, and Idaho Panhandle National Forest in Idaho. The number of fires decreased with the merging of Napoleon 2 and Hamilton with the Napoleon 1 fire.

A public meeting for these fires will be held tonight at 7pm Mountain Time at the Clark Fork Junior/Senior High School in Clark Fork, Idaho. 

Evacuations: Evacuations are in effect along Highway 56 from mile marker 14 extending south to mile mark 2.7, for both sides of the highway. The evacuation zone also includes all residences on the East Fork Bull River Road. Pre-evacuation notices are in effect for all residences north of Highway 200 from mile marker 6 to the Highway 56 intersection (approximately 4 miles), for the residents on the Old Bull River Road and for residents on Highway 56 from approximately mile mark 14.5 to mile mark 14; and mile mark 2.7 south to the Highway 200 intersection.

On Sunday, Mop-up efforts into the interior of the Napoleon Fire, south and west of Highway 56, were hampered by the large size of snags and the scarcity of experienced chainsaw fallers.

Helicopters were able to install a new communications repeater on Pack Saddle Mountain which will greatly improve coordination across the Complex.

Smokejumpers on the Marten Creek Fire started using pumps and hoses to reduce the heat and minimize the threat of that fire moving east toward the Whitetail Fire. Firefighters turned the northeast corner of the Whitetail Fire and did some limited burn-outs along the northeast flank to straighten out the black line.

Scotchman Peak Fire crews continued their progress along the toe of the slope south of the fire and expected to finish a line along strengthened Forest roads yesterday.

The potential of the Sawtooth Fire to move toward the northeast, along with aligned drainages and the prevailing wind direction, continues to concern fire managers. They are assessing potential suppression opportunities along the Ross Creek Road.

The Government Fire, east of Highway 56, started to move downhill toward the highway. An excavator working on the Napoleon Fire was moved to the east side of the highway and began work on structure protection on that side of the road. The night shift consisted of a task force of engines who made sure the Napoleon Fire stayed away from structures along Highway 56.

On Monday, helicopter managers were looking to the sky for improved visibility that might enable them to support ground forces. Fire Behavior Specialist Risa Lange-Navarro expects the Napoleon Fire to continue to move toward Highway 200 on the southwest flank of the fire with the amount of growth regulated by the smoke cover.

Crews on the Scotchman Peak contingency line expected to complete their work Monday and resources from that area will be moved to Divisions with greater needs.

The smokejumpers were looking to achieve 100% perimeter control on the Marten Creek Fire by the end of the day on Monday.

Opportunities to conduct limited burn-out operations along the Pillick Ridge Trail, south of the Napoleon Fire, to secure the southeast flank will be investigated. Structure protection west of the Government Fire will continue. A new Temporary Flight Restriction for aircraft will be initiated centered on Whitetail Peak. Heavy equipment carries on the work of improving the 332 road to retard any northward advance by the Whitetail Fire.

Closures: The Idaho Panhandle National Forests and the Kootenai National Forest have instituted area and trail closures around many of the fires in the Clark Fork Complex; please consult the websites for the respective Forests at the Idaho Panhandle http://www.fs.usda.gov/ipnf or the Kootenaihttp://www.fs.usda.gov/kootenai for the latest updates.

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