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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 27, 2015

Structure protecton on the Bear Creek Fire.
Structure protecton on the Bear Creek Fire.

Thompson Divide Complex
The Flathead County Sheriff's Department has issued a mandatory evacuation for the town of Essex, MT, threatened by the approaching Sheep Fire. Highway 2 is now closed from mile markers 176.8-185. The BNSF and Amtrack railroads in the area are also closed.

There will be a public meeting tonight at the West Glacier Elementary School at 8:00 p.m. It will be held in the gym of the school at 160 Old Bridge Road in West Glacier.

A Red Cross shelter is also being set up at the West Glacier Elementary School, and an Emergency Operations Center Information Line has been established at 406-758-2111.

MTPR has a reporter on the scene. We'll have updates later today on the evacuation of Essex and the Thompson Complex fires.

Clark Fork Complex
There will be a Community Meeting at Camp Elohim, 12395 Highway 56 (approximately 12 miles south of the Highway 2 & 56 intersection and 22 miles north of the Highway 200 & 56 Intersection) at 6:00 p.m. (MDT) on Thursday, August 27 to interact with Fire Managers and Local Officials.

Infra-red photos taken Wednesday night were able to penetrate the smoke cover and give fire managers a more accurate look at the fires. The total acreage burned was revised upward to 13,762, but estimated burned acreage decreased for some fires in the complex.

The Napoleon Fire, which prompted evacuation orders still in effect along Highway 56, has grown to 7,896 acres. Wednesday, crews on that fire laid hose along the Pillick Ridge Trail to diminish heat between Highway 56 and Gin Gulch, where the fire has crossed the ridge. According to Inciweb:  Their strategy on this end of the Napoleon Fire is to delay and delay its movement south until a weather change can take the heat out of it.

Hot-shot crews working the Whitetail Fire just south of Clark Fork, ID Wednesday began building fire line and worked to reinforce Road 332. Today, backed by heavy equipment, they'll continue work building line to hold the fire south of the Road 332 ridge.

The Sawtooth Fire hasn't made significant movement toward the Ross Creek Cedar grove.

Today personnel will be sent to the Scotchman Peak Fire to look for ways to protect whitebark pine trees in the area.

Fire activity is expected to increase on the Clark Fork Complex today if the smoke breaks up. There is a chance of thunderstorms in the area this afternoon.

Spotted Bear Fires
In the interest of public safety, beginning on August 28, the Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wilderness Areas in the Spotted Bear Ranger District will be closed to public use due to fire activity. Officials say the intention of the closure is to be as short as possible. Forest personnel will be evaluating the fire conditions daily to determine when it is safe to reopen the wilderness.

The Spotted Bear Fires are 19 lightning-caused fires burning on the Spotted Bear Ranger District and in the Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wilderness. Most of the fires are under 15 acres and unstaffed, though they're being monitored for fire growth and fire behavior.

Benchmark Fire
Mandatory evacuations remain in effect today along the upper portion of Benchmark Road as crews work on the 25 acre fire burning near the Benchmark Airstrip. Campgrounds and trails in the area are also closed, including portions of the Continental Divide Trail.

Scotchman Gulch Fire
The 210 acre fire northwest of Phillipsburg is 90 percent contained. Crews are mopping up and building fuel breaks along Road #4325

Several roads and trails remain closed due to the Schtchman Gulch Fire.

Bear Lake Fire
The lightning-caused Bear Lake Fire has burned 4,250 acres on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest about 12 miles south east of Wisdom, MT. Yesterdays moderate weather allowed crews to make good progress on structure protection for the Jerked Prairie Estate and Martin Mine. On the souther edge, crews used tactical firing operations to establish a secure perimeter and protect structures in the area. Crews plan to continue these structure protection operations today.

A community meeting is planned for today in Wisdom at the Wisdom Community Building at 6:30 p.m.

Road and trail closures are in effect in the area, find the latest closure info on Inciweb.

Forecasts call for a dry cold front to move through the area Friday and Saturday. Gusty winds and low humidity are expected to fuel the growth of the fire.

Whipcracker Fire
The lightning-caused Whipcracker Fire, discovered on BLM lands in the Whipcracker Gulch area of the Elkhorn Mountains Thursday has burned 10 acres so far. The fire is exhibiting some isolated tree torching. Fire crews, including three helicopters are working to establish an anchor point for a direct attack. No structures are currently threatened.

West Fork Fish Creek Fire
A fire now estimated at 2,600 acres has been discovered on the Ninemile Ranger District in the proposed Great Burn Wilderness Area. The fire is about 15 miles southwest of Tarkio, MT.

Precautionary evacuations of 15-20 houses and cabins, including the Hole in the Wall Ranch, have been ordered in the Fish Creek drainage. An area closure is also in effect.

Firefighters from the Frenchtown Fire Department plan to concentrate on structure protection at the Clearwater Crossing Campground, and other areas as necessary.

Josh Burnham is MTPR's digital editor. He works on the news team and as a content strategist managing the station's website, podcasts, email newsletters and social media.
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