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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 17, 2016

A helicopter returns from dumping water on the Roaring Lion Fire on August 15, 2016
A helicopter returns from dumping water on the Roaring Lion Fire on August 15, 2016

The latest on wildfires around western Montana.

Last Update 6:25 p.m.

Five fires are now burning in Yellowstone National Park. Crews are actively suppressing two that started Monday afternoon. One, about an acre in size, is burning half a mile away from the Grand Loop Road.

Three larger fires are moving through the scar left by Yellowstone’s infamous fires of 1988. They total almost 10,000 acres in the northwest corner of the park.

An analysis team is collecting data for future fire modeling, says Fire Information Officer Mike Johnson.

"We're kind of allowing nature to take its natural course."

Despite the fires, Johnson says Yellowstone visitors won’t miss out on any of the park’s major attractions.

"They're going to have an opportunity to safely see some fire off in the distance and learn a little bit more about fire and how it plays a role here in the park."

Visitors can expect to see crews dropping water on the Boundary Fire, just north of West Yellowstone.

Update: 4:00 p.m. 08/17/16

The Black Mountain Fire burning outside of Lincoln is currently at 5 acres with 60 personnel working towards containment. The fire was discovered by a helicopter flying over the Helena National Forest yesterday at 12:00. Since then there have been no containment updates from officials. No homes or structures are threatened at this time and there have been no notices for area closures.

The two most recent fires inside Yellowstone National Park are the one acre Thumb Fire and the Boundary Fire, which is measured at less than 50 acres. The first is located near Duck Lake and just north of the West Thumb. The Boundary Fire is a quarter mile inside the park boundary and four miles north of West Yellowstone. Both fires are using smoke jumpers and helicopters to work towards containment.

Also in Yellowstone is the Buffalo Complex, made up of the Fawn Fire, Maple Fire, and Buffalo Fire, which is being monitored by park officials. None of these fires pose any current threat to structures, roads, or people, and are being allowed to burn. The Fawn Fire is currently measured at 936 acres, the Maple Fire is approximately 5,000 acres, and the Fawn Fire is less than 350 acres.

The Copper King Fire, eight miles outside of Thompson Falls and one mile north of Highway 200, remains at 20 percent contained, but has increased in acreage for the second time this week. After a 200 acre jump over the weekend and another increase yesterday afternoon, the fire now covers 2,278 acres.

Officials cite difficult and inaccessible terrain for the major increases in the Copper King Fire's perimeter. Managers insist that firefighter safety will not be compromised by working in dangerous areas. Major increases in fire activity have been seen in the Buckeye Canyon, and most recently, along the south side of Kookoosint Ridge above Highway 200.

Given these changes in activity, crews are looking for new ways to combat the fire's spread. Priority is still being given to establishing hose lays and sprinkler systems around houses and structures in the area. Officials are also looking to bring in new resources and tools to fight Copper King over the next couple of days. More details will be available tomorrow.

The teams look forward to a cold front on Thursday, which will be a welcome change from the high temperatures and low humidity early in the week.

On the Roaring Lion Fire five miles southwest of Hamilton, lookouts continue to focus on suppression in the Ward bowl area, and eliminating hotspots on the fire's perimeter. There was a 37 acre spread in the bowl earlier this week, which officials say "tested" the defensive lines that crews built. That terrain is difficult and inaccessible, posing significant challenges for ground crews.

Protecting structures near the fire's edge continues to be a top priority for the teams working on the fire. Although today will be the hottest and driest day yet for the Roaring Lion crews, they are expecting some relief with Thursday's cold front.

Officials say they expect the fire to remain active in the interior and along the western perimeter. They also say the smoke is likely to stick around until a season-ending event douses the fire.

The fire is 8,311 acres and is 70 percent contained.

The Dry Creek Fire burned 350 acres north of Bozeman before being contained Tuesday afternoon. The fire started in a field Monday, and forced the evacuation of 20 homes, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. All the evacuees were allowed to return home Monday night.

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