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

Wildfire Roundup For July 11, 2017

A heavy air tanker drops retardant on the July fire on Monday
A heavy air tanker drops retardant on the July fire on Monday

Update 5 p.m. 07/11/17

Fire officials are now investigating whether a person is responsible for starting the big fire burning near Zortman.

"In order not to compromise the investigation, the BLM is not currently discussing the active investigation," says Pat Stocktt, who's with the Western Montana Incident Management Team.

The fire, which started on July 3, is 60 percent contained after burning 17 square miles and a small cabin in the Little Rocky Mountains. The cost to fight the fire so far is $3.2 million.

In western Montana, the Lazier Creek 3 Fire is threatening some cabins between Thompson Falls and Libby. The lightning-caused fire was first reported on Sunday and quickly grew from 40 acres to an estimated  more than 1,100 acres today.

The Flathead Beacon is reporting that this morning, a spot fire was reported on Boulder Ridge near Many Glacier on the east side of Glacier National Park. Firefighters hoped to have the small fire completely contained by the end of the day. Firefighters have been dealing with small spot fires all across Northwest Montana after a series of thunderstorms over the weekend.

In southeastern Montana, the Tongue River Complex Fires on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation have burned nearly 41 square miles in mixed grass and timber. The Lee Creek Fire is 95 percent contained while the 34 square mile Witten Fire is 50 percent contained.

Update 1 p.m 07/11/17:

A map of the NW MT fires is now available here.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels helped firefighters make progress on four fires in Northwest Montana yesterday.

That's according to Anna Callahan, a spokesperson for the Type 2 incident management team that took over management of the fires at 6:00 this morning. 

Callahan offered no estimates for how close crews are to containing the fires, but said the Northwest Meadows Peak fire, estimated at 11 acres, is "in mop-up mode." She said mop-up is also starting on the Grub Fire, estimated at 15 acres.

On the 25-50 acre Rogers Mountain fire, "they are also improving anchor points and direct line, holding that," Callahan said. 

The Lazier Creek 3 Fire is estimated at 1,000 acres, Callahan said. "There are two divisions on that fire."

Today's weather forecast for the area calls for scattered isolated thunderstorms, expected to bring gusty winds and little to no rain. Hot and dry weather is expected to return to the area by Wednesday. 

The InciWeb page for the Northwest Montana fires says 85 people are currently fighting the fires. The page offers July 31 as the estimated date of containment.

This morning's update on the July Fire that started near Zortman July 3 says, " Monday's weather created both challenges and opportunities for firefighters. Through early afternoon, hot temperatures and gusty winds increased fire intensity and smoke as the fire consumed areas of unburned fuel inside the fire perimeter.

"When forecasted afternoon thunderstorms created strong, erratic winds with little rain, crews implemented the day's safety plan by temporarily disengaging from the fire. After the storms passed, crews took advantage of the higher humidity and cooler temperatures to re-engage the fire and make progress constructing and improving fire lines and contingency lines. 

"Today's weather is expected to be more favorable. Crews plan to ... increase control by burning out fuels between the Haul Road and the edge of the main fire."

The update also says, "it was determined that one burned structure, originally thought to be an outbuilding was actually a small recreational cabin."

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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