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

Montana Wildfire Roundup for August 26, 2015

The Marston Fire on the Kootenai National Forest
The Marston Fire on the Kootenai National Forest

NOTE: We'll add information to this update today as it becomes available.

In general fires in northwestern Montana are being held in check by the thick layer of smoke over the area.

[Update 6:40 p.m. 08/26/15]

Upcoming public meetings:

Lincoln, MT, 7:00 p.m. Wednesday August 26 at Hooper Park in downtown Lincoln.

Seeley Lake, MT, 7:00 p.m. Wednesday August 26 at  Seeley Lake Elementary school.

Wise River, MT, 1:00 p.m. Thursday, August 27 at the Wise River Community Building.

Polaris, MT, 3:30 p.m. Thursday, August 27 at the Grasshopper VFD.

Wisdom, MT, 6:30 p.m Thursday, August 27 at the Wisdom Community Building.

Sheep Fire: [Updated 6:40 p.m. 08/26/15]

The Sheep fire that’s been threatening the town of Essex just south of Glacier National Park for a week now hasn’t grown significantly. Essex remains on pre-evacuation alert, but Fire Information Officer Jonathan Moor says conditions for the last few days have been favorable enough that fire crews have been able to clean up ground fuels that could drive the fire into Essex.

"They have brought in logging equipment and skid-steers. They are also using a dedicated set of BNSF railroad trains and cars to move logs away from the area between the fire and Essex," Moor says.

Thunderstorms are expected in the area around the Sheep Fire and Thompson Divide Complex area today through Friday. Officials estimate 1,002 acres burned so far.

Clark Fork Complex

To the far northwest the six fires of the Clark Fork Complex are burning more than 12,000 acres on either side of the Montana-Idaho state line north of Libby. Weather conditions there also kept the fires from growing significantly today, says Fire Information Officer Bob MacGregor:

"We’re pretty well smoked in here in the Clark Fork Valley."

MacGregor said while temperature and humidity conditions are conducive to fire growth he doesn't expect a lot of fire growth today due to smoke cover dampening fire activity.

One fire is about 1/2 mile away from the Ross Creek Cedars, and is projected to spread toward the cedar grove.

Fire Information Officer Bob MacGregor:

“They're working on keeping the Ross Creek Cedars protected. The good thing about the Ross Creek Cedars is that they've survived all the fires in the past 500 to 1,000 years, including the big fires of 1889, and 1910, which burned everything else around here. They sit down in a natural drainage, it's quite humid down there. There's a couple of natural barriers without fuels that protects that grove. That's why they've been able to live there that long. We think it's going to protect it this time, but firefighters are helping to, lets say, enhance those natural barriers too."

MacGregor said about 300 people showed up at a public meeting about the fires last night in Clark Fork, Idaho and showed a lot of appreciation for firefighters in the area.

Morell Complex: [Update 11:00 a.m. 08/26/15]

There’s a public meeting tonight at Seeley Lake Elementary school at 7:00 p.m. to update people on the Morell Complex fires. The Morell Complex is now being called 60 percent contained.

Benchmark Fire: [Updated 11:00 a.m. 08/26/15] Early afternoon on August 25, 2015 a fire was reported on the Lewis & Clark National Forest's Rocky Mountain District burning approximately 1 mile west of the north end of the Benchmark Airstrip. District personnel located and initial attacked the fire on the ground but had to withdraw for safety reasons when the fire activity heated up and made several runs in the crown. Suppression tactics shifted to using aerial resources with two light helicopters using bucket drops and four aerial tankers dropping fire retardant with the assistance of a lead plane and an air attack plane controlling aerial operations.

Under the jurisdiction of the Lewis and Clark County Sherriff's Department, a mandatory evacuation of the upper portion of the Benchmark Road corridor began in the late afternoon. The area being evacuated includes recreational cabins, a resort, Forest Service campgrounds, heavily used trailheads, a Ranger District administrative site, and a Forest Service rental cabin. To provide for public safety and security of the evacuated structures, a road block is in place on the Benchmark Road to prevent entry into the evacuated area.

As of 21:00 on 8/25/15, the fire is estimated at 25 - 35 acres. Suppression efforts will continue tomorrow and the evacuation remains in effect with no estimate of when this order may be listed.

Thompson Divide Complex: [Updated 6:40 p.m. 08/26/15]

The Sheep Fire is about 1 mile south of Essex on the Flathead National Forest. It is burning in very steep terrain with limited access. Light fire activity yesterday allowed the continued movement of equipment to the fire area in preparation for removal of fuels. Officials estimate the fire has burned 17,090 acres so far. Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains will continue to transport firefighters to the fire area. Equipment has begun to build a shaded fuel break to the northeast of the fire, running between the train trestle and Essex following the river corridor. Helicopters will help with bucket drops when not hindered by low visibility. Logs being removed will be taken out by train to the Schellinger gravel pit for eventual removal. 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. The Thompson Fire is located in remote south-central backcountry of Glacier National Park about 15 miles east of the West Glacier entrance in the Thompson and Nyack drainage west of the Continental Divide. Firefighters inserted by helicopter back into the Nyack Creek Drainage continue to mop up. Pumps and hose lay are in place in case a future need arises. Most of Glacier National Park is unaffected by this wildfire complex and is available for recreational use. Limited backcountry closures are in place. For more specific visitor information, please see the website. For information on the Reynolds Creek fire, please visit inciweb.

Sucker Creek Fire:

There will be a community meeting this evening at Hooper Park, Lincoln MT. 7:00 p.m.

Yesterday we saw some active fire burning up the Keep Cool Drainage in the north center of the fire until it ran in to the 2003 Snow/Talon burn area and died down. Expect to see a similar column of smoke today as warm and dry weather helps to burn pockets inside the fire perimeter; particularly along the northern portion and along the southeastern edge of the fire treated during burn out operations last week. Both areas will be continuously monitored.

The Landers Fork Creek residential area was opened up to residents on Sunday; however the area closures are still in place. Sucker Creek Road (Forest Road 1800) from the forest boundary to the junction of Copper Creek Road (Forest Road 330), Copper Creek Road north of the junction of Sucker Creek Road, and Snow Bank Trail (#418), will remain in place until further notice. As there is still active fire, crews and heavy equipment working in the burn area, please practice extreme caution when driving Copper Creek Road.

Fire crews are continuing the rehabilitation operations, including mopping up hot spots and chipping brush along the edge of the fire and dozer lines. Crews and equipment, no longer needed for the current activities, are being released. This will make them available to assist on other active wild fires in great need of resources.

Management of the Sucker Creek Fire will be handed over to a smaller type 3 incident management team at 7:00 a.m., Thursday August 27, 2015. About 90 personnel will remain assigned to the fire including 5 engines, 1 helicopter, 1 water tender, 1 20 person hand crew, 1 excavator, and 2 falling teams. These resources will be in addition to local firecrews that will be helping out while managing their regular fire protection responsibilities.

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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