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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For July 27, 2017


Updated 1:00 p.m.

On the Sunrise Fire between Alberton and Superior: Yesterday at about 6:00 pm the Mineral County Sheriff moved both Quartz Flats and Sunrise communities into a stage 3 evacuation. A stage 3 evacuation means that the residents in those areas need to leave the area immediately. Additionally, the Sheriff moved the Verde Creek residents into stage 2, which means that those residents need to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

Today at about 11:00 am, the Lolo National Forest issued A stage 1 evacuation notice for the Rivulet area. Stage 1 means to stay alert and keep informed of the fire.

The latest InciWeb fact sheet for the fire says 60 structures are threatened. 

Fire managers say, "Yesterday (Wed 7/26) firefighters started the day working on structure protection primarily in Sunrise and began similar work in Verde Creek and Quartz Road. Additionally, large equipment opened up roads to the north of Quartz Creek.

Late in the afternoon, the Sunrise Fire spotted about a mile east of the active fire edge. Because of the location of the spot and the risk to structures, Retardant and helicopters supported operations throughout the day. When the fire got most active, four air tankers and four helicopters flew until 9 pm dropping retardant and water to halt the fire spread.

The fire burned intensively until about midnight and then calmed down a bit in the early morning hours. The Red Cross established an Emergency Shelter at the Superior High School for residents displaced by this fire. Approximately 75 people attended a community meeting held at Lozeau Lodge.

The Sunrise Fire is now estimated at 3,700 acres per infared mapping this morning, and five percent containment. 

The fact sheet says, "Fire managers are anticipating a very busy day on the fire. Crews are strengthening and extending dozer containment lines on strategic ridges north and south of the fire. Structure protection will continue in Rivulet and Verde Creek. Firefighters will remove fuels around the homes in Sunrise and Quartz Flats to improve defensibility. If conditions are favorable, crews will burn around some of the private property to further reduce fuels and protect the values at risk. Firefighters will stay viligent for potentially dangerous conditions on the fireline because of the possibility for strong downdraft winds that could come with thunder and lightning. Firefighters will disengage if conditions compromise their safety."

The nearby Burdette Fire, located 13 miles southeast of Tarkio, is 580 acres per infrared mapping early this morning, and 10 percent contained. 

Fire managers say that yesterday fire activity continued to be minimal. Hand crews completed fireline construction and air support provided bucket work.

Weather today will be unstable with a chance of thunderstorms. The excavator will finish connecting fireline to existing roads. The strategy for this fire continues to be to confine and contain. Air support is available as needed.

There will be a community meeting on the SapphireComplex tonight at 7pm at the Rock Creek Fisherman's Mercantile to discuss the current and long term plans for the Goat Creek, Sliderock and Little Hogback Fires. Members of Incident Commander Irv Leach's Eastern Montana Team and representatives of local and federal agencies will be on hand to answer questions and provide detailed information. The meeting will be streamed LIVE on the Lolo National Forest's Facebook Page at All are welcome. Questions: call 406-540-3589.

The Goat Creek Fire is now approximately 2,707 acres, and 5 percent contained. The fire progressed towards the east with little substantial growth. Construction and improvement of indirect fireline completed by dozers and handcrews continues along ridgelines from Babcock Mountain beyond Burnt Mountain southeast towards Strawberry Mountain. Approximately 16 miles of fireline have been completed.

The Granite County Sheriff's Office has issued yellow level notices for the resident on Brewster Creek Road and for the residents located between mile marker 5 and 13 on Rock Creek Road.

The Sliderock Fire is approximately 503 acres, and 5 percent contained. The fire continues to slowly move east, but overall growth was not significant yesterday. Fireline was completed on the southwest flank with crews hooking towards the east.

The fire previously reported in the Welcome Creek Wilderness, Cinnabar 3, located on Sunday evening by air resources, was worked again Wednesday by smokejumpers and a crew as well as supported by helicopters.

The Little Hogback Fire is approximately 4,416 acres and zero percent contained. Fire activity continues to be primarily on the northeast flank of the fire. Heavy equipment constructed fuelbreaks east of Sandstone Ridge area moving north to south from Standish Creek towards Sawpit Gulch. Hose lays plumbed with portable tanks remain in place to protect structures around the Hogback and Morgan Case Homesteads along Rock Creek Road.

There will be a public meeting at 7:00 tonight about the Lolo Peak fire at the Florence-Carlton Community Church, 20075 Old Highway 93. The meeting will be live streamed on the Bitterroot National Forest Facebook page.

The meeting will be posted to the  Lolo National Forest Facebook page after the meeting concludes.

Missoula County public can receive emergency notifications of critical alerts via their choice of text, phone and/or email by signing up at People in Ravalli County can download the Ravalli County Sheriff’s app to their mobile devices to receive critical information notifications.

The Lolo Peak Fire is now estimated at 2,904 acres. Fire managers are offering no containment estimate. 

By late afternoon yesterday, spot fires within the Falls Creek canyon had been affected by the temperature and wind enough to cause a significant increase in activity. As a result, running crown fires pushed the fire up Falls Creek canyon east toward Lolo Peak. In late evening, the fire had spotted west of Meadow Creek crossing South Fork Lolo Creek canyon and burned to the top of the ridge.

Today, fire crews and heavy equipment task forces will be constructing a control line between Mill Creek and Mormon Peak Road (NFSR 612). Structure assessment has been completed in the Highway 12 corridor and will continue south in the Highway 93 corridor.

The 60 acre Rice Ridge Fire continues to burn northeast Seeley Lake. The terrain is fairly inaccessible and the vegetation the fire is burning through is very dry and includes thick duff and many dead snags and logs. Fire operations are focused on point protection for Forest Service infrastructure and on preventing the fire from burning towards homes and communities to the west and south. 

A fire closure order went into effect yesterday. It restricts public access to roads, trails, and areas in the vicinity of the fire for public safety reasons. This is not only from the danger posed by the fire but also hazards from firefighting operations and equipment. 

There will be some cloud cover today and monsoonal moisture is expected this afternoon with a chance of showers and the potential for lightning and erratic winds. Rainfall amounts will be slight, if any. Smoke may be visible throughout the day, generally increasing in the afternoon, though most of the smoke is from other fires in the region.

The Park Creek Fire two miles north of Lincoln is now estimated at 3,562 via an early morning infrared map. It is being called 25% contained. 

Fire managers say, "the fire was active during the peak burning hours in the afternoon yesterday, as warm temperatures and dry conditions prevailed. The fire was mostly backing down towards the constructed fuel break along the road system near the drainage to the east of Stonewall Creek and in Liverpool Creek. Fire managers took the opportunity presented by the weather to conduct a burnout operation on the northeast edge of the fire by boxing it in utilizing the old Sucker Creek Fire. The purpose of this operation was to break up the heavy concentrations of fuels and reduce potential spotting that can result from large fire runs when wind and terrain align. Four engines patrolled and monitored the line overnight."

Today's plan is: "heavy equipment and crews will hold and improve the constructed fuel break along the southern edge of the fire. Helicopters are available for water drops when needed. Fire managers are considering potential implementation of burnout operations further south to remove the unburned fuel between the leading edge of the fire and the established control lines. A night shift will again patrol and monitor the line."

The Arrastra Creek Fire is one-and-a-half miles west of the Park Creek Fire. Yesterday, fire managers say, "Crews implemented a planned burnout operation on the southwest corner of the Arrastra Creek Fire, slowly bringing the fire down to the road and adjacent fuel break.

Helicopters dropped 30,000 gallons of water to pre-treat the fuels prior to the operation.

There was a very visible column of smoke, indicating the operation was progressing as planned to clean up the jagged edge and decrease the heavy concentrations of fuels adjacent to the fuel break.

The weather forecast for both fires is: temperatures will again be above normal with low relative humidity and wind from the southwest. The forecast calls for a 30% chance of dry thunderstorms with potential for dry micro-burst winds and lightning. There appears to be more potential for strong winds than moisture. Temperatures will rise and humidity will drop by the weekend.

In Eastern Montana, fire managers say, cooperative weather over the past couple of days has allowed firefighters to make good progress on containing the 270,200 acre Lodgepole Complex of fires, increasing containment to 62 percent.

Fire managers say that, "today, crews will continue to patrol the lines, work on mop up, and where appropriate start working on rehabilitation of fire lines. Smoke may still be visible as interior burning continues to occur in the northern part of the fire where there are unburned fuels available. The distance around the fire perimeter is 196 miles.

"Work continues to patrol and mop up containment lines and hold and secure any active fire lines especially during the expected gusty winds over the next two days. Operations personnel also continue to cooperate with local property owners on containment and rehab of fire line actions.

"Today there will possibly be critical fire weather conditions ahead of a frontal boundary. Gusty Southeast winds, humidity levels in the upper teens and a slight chance of thunderstorms are possible.

"Critical fire weather conditions are possible again on Friday as gusty winds combine with low humidity levels along with the potential for thunderstorms. Hot and dry conditions will continue through the weekend into early next week."

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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