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Wildfire Roundup For July 19, 2017

A firefighting helicopter flies over Missoula recently
Eric Whitney
A firefighting helicopter flies over Missoula recently

Updated 6:20 pm:

A lightning strike near Lincoln grew into a nearly 200-acre blaze today. The Arrastra Fire is burning in very steep terrain a few drainages west of the 1,800-acre Park Creek Fire.

Peri Suenram, public information officer for the Park Creek Fire, says the new blaze is on a steep, heavily timbered hillside burning through beetle-killed trees.

"It's still initial attack," Suenram says. "There are 30 people up on the hill and they are using a helicopter on it doing bucket work."

Local Forest Service officials decided to fully suppress the fire, given the predicted weather for the next couple of days and other fire activity in the region.

Suenram says more lightning is expected to move into the area tomorrow and Friday. A public meeting about the Arrastra Fire is planned for tomorrow (Thur 7/20) at Hooper Park in Lincoln at 7PM.

Suenram says more lightning is expected to move into the area Thursday and Friday.

This morning’s update on the Park Creek Fire said suppression efforts are concentrated on the southern edge of the fire to reduce the potential for it to move southward onto state and private lands.

The other major fire in Lewis and Clark County is the 390 acre Lookout Fire five miles west/southwest of Wolf Creek. Two-hundred-and-nineteen people are fighting that fire, and their primary focus is structure protection at this time. The Lookout Fire was being called 60 percent contained this morning.

The Park Creek Fire was estimated at five percent containment this morning.

West of Missoula the Lolo Peak Fire in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness grew about 100 acres to the south last night, it’s now estimated at 165 acres.

Fire Spokesperson Carmen Thomason says that a type two management team is keeping an eye on it.

“There are air resources that have been giving eyes on the fire,” Thomasson said. “There are ground resources that are out actually looking at the fire, and looking for places of opportunity. But just based on it being in the wilderness, in that real steep, rugged terrain, currently there are no ground resources doing direct attack on the fire, it’s just not feasible right now.”

A management team is tracking two other fires south east of Missoula on the Lolo National Forest, Thomason says:

“ Currently the Slide Rock Fire is at 186 acres, and the Little Hogback Fire is at 429,” Thomasson says.

Smoke from those fires is visible from I-90, and Thomasson says the area saw about 33 lightning strikes last night, so land managers are keeping an eye out for new fire starts. 

Updated 11:35 am:

The Lazier Creek 3 Fire between Kalispell and Libby was declared 100 percent contained this morning. The four other fires in the Highway 2 corridor west of Kalispell are also all now 100 percent contained. 

The final InciWeb update and fact sheet on those fires can be found here.

The Park Creek Fire two miles north of Lincoln grew from an estimated 1,600 acres yesterday to 1,856 today. It is now being called five percent contained. 

Fire mangers report that, "The fire continued to be active in the large dead and downed logs with short duration crown runs through pockets of bug-killed trees. Crews have nearly completed the fuel break to the south of the fire along the Forest Service boundary from the Park Creek Road to the Sucker Creek Road. Structure protection was initiated on the Stonewall Mountain Lookout. The fire burned actively in the thermal belt at mid-elevation and received light precipitation from a passing storm after midnight.

"Today’s weather forecast calls for cooler temperatures and drier conditions. Winds should be light over most of the fire area, but could gust up to 30 miles per hour on the ridgetops making helicopter operations challenging. Although there is moisture in the air from last night’s storm, there is still a large amount of dry air in the upper atmosphere, affecting fire behavior and activity.

Today, planned activity includes "crews and heavy equipment (feller-bunchers and skidders) will continue to establish and strengthen a fuel break along the forest boundary so it is effective at keeping the fire from getting to state or private lands. Helicopters are available for water drops if needed. The fire is expected to continue to burn actively in the head of Park Creek and advance to the northeast. Smoke is and will remain very visible, particularly in the afternoons. Initial attack resources are responding to reports of new fires in the area from last night’s lightning."
There are numerous road and trail closures in the area. Details on those, and fire updates can be found at the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest's Facebook page. 

Managers report no growth on the Lookout Fire five miles west/southwest of Wolf Creek.

Yesterday, crews continued to construct and improve the fireline, in some areas crews are mopping up the fire edges.

Two additional Hot Shot crews are expected to arrive today, and a spike camp was established for two crews to overnight in a safe area near the fire.

Ten fire engines are assessing structures and providing protection for residences along the Lyons Creek road. Additional engines are on order to assist with structure protection.

One heavy and one medium helicopter were available to assist, however there were no calls for water drops on the fireline yesterday.

Planned activity for today will consist of utilizing heavy equipment and crews for direct line construction. Suppression efforts will continue to focus on structure protection.

Facebook Information on Evacuation Status: Lewis and County Sheriff

A security dog hydrates on the Lookout Fire this morning
Credit InciWeb
A security dog hydrates on the Lookout Fire this morning

The Lolo Peak Fire west of Missoula grew by about 100 acres to the south yesterday, and is now estimated at 165 acres. It is burning with the northern boundary of the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness. 

A Type 2 inicdent management team has assumed command of the fire, but the Lolo National Forest says, "the rugged and inaccessible terrain does not allow for direct work on the fire line at this time by ground resources. Aviation assets will continue to monitor the fire and planning efforts are being developed to minimize impacts to local communities and infrastructure." 

There are numerous road and trail closures associated with the Lolo Peak Fire, details of which can be found here. 

The Flathead Office of Emergency Services reports several small fires in their area.

Active fires on the Flathead National Forest are:

Emery Ridge: Started July 16, .1 acres, lightning caused, contained

Gregg: Started July 16, .25 acres, lightning caused, on patrol

Devil Creek: Started July 13, .1 acres, human caused, on patrol

Moose Creek: Started July 7, 7 acres, lightning caused, controlled

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is tracking the fires below:

West Brown Meadow: Started July 15, .1 acres, lightning caused, on patrol

South McGregor: Started July 15, .2 acres, lightning caused, on patrol

East Ashley: Started July 14, .2 acres, human caused, on patrol

Lemonade: Started July 12, .1 acres, lightning caused, on patrol

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.