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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For September 4, 2015

A helicopter drops water on a fire in the Holter Complex.
A helicopter drops water on a fire in the Holter Complex.

Montana firefighters are using this cool, wet weather to continue making gains on area wildfires. Northern Rockies Coordinating Group spokeswoman Paula Short says the cold front's a big help, but there's still so much fire out there that the season won't come to an end overnight.

Short says there have been about 80 big fires in the Northern Rockies this year that have burned over 100 acres each.

"But then you look over in the category of 'total fires' and it's well over 3,000. So, when you do the math on that it tells you that for every big fire that you're seeing there are literally hundreds of fires that local government partners, local fire departments and our initial attack forces are catching and, like they say, ‘putting them to bed’ before they ever get up on the board. They’re stopping them at a quarter of an acre, a tenth of an acre - you know, keeping them small."

Short says fast initial attack work not only keeps those fires smaller and less destructive than otherwise, but less expensive and less risky to fight.

Montana Wildfire Roundup,
Iinformation from

West Fork Fish Creek:
This fire is now being called 5% contained.

Crews and equipment continue to make good progress constructing indirect and direct line on the northern and eastern edges of the fire. Firefighters are felling fire-weakened trees to ensure safety on the fireline and along access roads. Some areas of the fire received 4/10ths of an inch of rain. Most of the rain is intercepted by the canopy and minimal amounts reach the fuels on the ground, allowing heavy fuels to continue burning.

Planned Actions: Firefighters will scout the northwestern flank of the fire for possible hand line locations. Operations will focus on continuing to construct mechanical and hand fireline. Crews will pull pumps and hoses from structures in the Rivulet area. Hazard trees along West Fork Fish Creek road will be felled with the help of a feller-buncher today. A low ceiling and patches of fog will limit air operations.

Weather: Rain is expected this afternoon. Temperatures of 57-62 °F and high relative humidity are forecast, with variable winds out of the northeast later today.

Rocky Mountain Ranger District Fires - Including the Spotted Eagle and Moose Ridge Fires:

No new growth was reported on the Moose Ridge or Spotted Eagle fires. The arrival of cool and wet weather limited fire activity to internal smoldering within the existing fire perimeter. Fire managers continued bucket work to eliminate hot spots. With the moderation in fire activity, crews actively worked west of Swift Reservoir to build fireline. Some smoke settled into lower elevation areas throughout the day.

Today: Cool temperatures are expected to continue throughout the day with periods of locally heavy rainfall. When safe, crews will continue cold-trailing fireline on eastern flank of the Spotted Eagle Fire. If conditions allow, crews will also continue to build line west from Swift Reservoir to prevent possible fire spread to the south. Interior pockets of unburned timber within both fire perimeters may continue to smolder throughout the day. Minimal new growth is expected. There are currently 196 personnel working these fires.

The Northern Rockies Incident Management Team assumed command of the fires at 7am this morning under the leadership of Incident Commander, Doug Turman. Turman’s team is replacing the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 4 who has returned to the southwest after successfully serving on two fires back-to-back.

Community Meetings: A community meeting is scheduled for 2 pm Saturday in Browning at the ‘Brown Building’.

Thompson Divide Complex - including the Sheep, Granite and Thompson fires:
The pilot car escort ended today at 8:00 am, with unrestricted travel on U.S. Highway 2. Motorists are cautioned to drive carefully because of fire traffic along this route. For current road status, call 511 or visit

Sheep Fire: The fire showed little activity again yesterday. Structural protection measures have been removed. Crews will continue to monitor and haul out equipment. The team will begin to rehabilitate fire lines and other disturbed areas around the Sheep Fire.

Granite Fire: There has been little fire activity the past few days. One engine and crew are using existing roads to monitor the fire’s activity. Excess equipment is being hauled out.

Holter Lake Complex:
Now 75% contained. Yesterday fire crews took advantage of the cooler weather and made good progress. The predicted winds did not develop which gave crews good working conditions to complete given tasks. Containment lines are in place on the northeast side of the fire with minimal smoke and hot spots.

Today’s Activities: Crews will take advantage of cooler conditions and moisture as they reinforce existing fireline and mop-up 200 feet in from the fires perimeter. It is important today for firefighters to knock down interior heat as dry conditions are forecasted next week.

The Incident Commander and Sheriff’s Office have lifted the evacuation and closure orders. Residents and recreationalists are allowed back in the area. Beartooth Road, Holter Lake Campground, Log Gulch Campground, Departure Point Campground, Beartooth Wildlife Management Area and Holter Lake are all open.

Clark Fork Complex:
Fire activity remained light across the Clark Fork Complex on Thursday. There was no extension of the perimeters and fire behavior was limited to interior creeping and smoldering with very occasional single tree torching.

Pockets of large fuels will continue burning on Friday and the forecasted northeast winds may cause occasional single-tree torching, especially on the south side of the Napoleon Fire. Ten loads of gravel will be distributed on the roads around the Whitetail Fire to fix ruts caused by heavy equipment use. The shaded fuel-break along Highway 200 should be completed today and equipment from that area will be moved to the northeast side of the Government Fire to strengthen the line there along private property. Hose-lays through the Ross Creek Cedars will begin today as a precautionary measure. The structure protection activities in the Eagle View Estates should be completed on Friday. Aggressive mop-up will target the few remaining hot-spots along the Highway 56 corridor. Personnel and equipment will continue to be demobilized in an on-going “right-sizing” of the Clark Fork Complex based on the projected weather conditions.

On Friday afternoon the wind will shift to the northeast and that will be the harbinger of a precipitation event that should drop between ¼ and ½ inches of rain on Friday night and Saturday. The northeast winds may cause some torching on the south side of the Napoleon Fire before the rain starts.

Goat Rock Complex:
Weather helped out a great deal yesterday, keeping fire activity minimal and growth very little on all of the fires in the Goat Rock Complex. Heavy fuels were continuing to hold heat and produce some smoke, and fire behavior remained creeping and smoldering.

The Montana National Guard provided air support for the Berray Mountain area, reinforcing operations on the ground with water drops utilizing two Chinook helicopters as well as the Skycrane. The chipper was utilized and continued to reduce available fuels along the fire lines around the Klatawa fire. The Chinooks and Skycrane dropped a total of 80,000 gallons of water on the Berray Mountain fire.

Today’s Planned Actions: Crews continue to work on fire lines around the Berray and Klatawa fires. Hand crews will follow equipment and conduct chipping as needed. Potential burnout operations remain a possibility if any of the fires threaten private property.

Today’s operations will be focused around Flower Creek Road on the Klatawa fire. Line construction near the Berray Mountain fire continues to progress north towards Forest Service Road 410 along the Highway 56 corridor. Weather conditions will change wind to an easterly direction which may increase smoke visibility in and around Libby. Air operations could occur, as needed and weather permitting, on any of the fires in the Goat Rock Complex.

Forecasted Weather: Today, cooler temperatures and partly cloudy conditions will continue to limit the fire activity. There is a chance the afternoon will bring widely scattered showers and possible thunderstorms which could produce gusty winds. The weekend brings with it an 80 percent chance of wetting rains, with a predicted ½ inch of total rainfall by Sunday.

Bear Lake Fire:
Current Status: Crews worked on hauling back supplies from the spike camps yesterday. All materials and crews have been removed from both the Bear Lake and Stewart Spike Camps. Rehabilitation work has begun with crews constructing water bars and rebuilding trails.

Planned Events: Since precipitation is in the forecast for today, minimal fire behavior is expected. Crews will continue to patrol and monitor the fire perimeter, remove excess equipment from the area and implement rehabilitation efforts where needed.

Fire Weather: Weather today will be cloudy with rain showers and isolated thunderstorms. The fire received varying amounts of rain overnight, with up to 1/4 inch of rain near Steel Creek. As rain continues throughout the day today, an additional 1/2-3/4 inch of rain is expected.

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