© 2022 MTPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Montana Wildfire Roundup for August 2, 2017

the 2017 Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake
Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake

A firefighter assigned to the Lolo Peak Fire has died. A little before 4 p.m., the firefighter was struck by a tree and airlifted to a Missoula Hospital.
Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott said the firefighter died shortly after. His office is conducting the coroner investigation.

Further details will be available once the investigation is complete and members of the victim’s family have been notified.

The Granite County Sheriff’s Office this afternoon rolled back a portion of an evacuation order in the Rock Creek drainage associated with the Sapphire Complex about 25 miles south-southeast of Missoula.

Yesterday there was a mandatory evacuation from Hogback Homestead south to the Kyle Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge.

The evacuation order for Stony Creek south to Kyle Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge today was rolled back to yellow, meaning pre-evacuation status.  

A pre-evacuation warning was issued from Hogback Homestead north to Butte Cabin.

A spokesperson for the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake reports more moderate fire behavior today compared to yesterday. He said there are still significant winds, but that the fire has not grown as much today as it did yesterday.

Yesterday morning the entire town was put on evacuation warning status, and the fire grew significantly yesterday afternoon.

The scooper planes and DC-10 slurry bomber that attacked the Rice Ridge Fire yesterday have been active on the fire again today.

Southeast of Superior, the Sunrise Fire has grown to 10,800 acres. Firefighters are trying to talk to all property owners as they assess structures. Ribbons tied on mail boxes means that a structure assessment has been completed.

A public meeting is scheduled for tonight at 7:00 at the Lozeau Lodge to discuss the Sunrise and Burdette Fires.

Efforts to control the Park Creek Fire burning near Lincoln met with favorable weather conditions today. Duane Buchi, a Public Information Officer reported that a drop in temperatures was welcomed by firefighting crews who gained control of a spot fire on the west side of the handline at Park Creek.

“By the time it was dark last night, they got a dozer line around that and they got hose lines laid around it. So they’ve just been working on that today and mopping that up.”

The spot fire on state land was the trigger for an evacuation order issued yesterday which still remains in effect for about 16 residences in the area.

The Mineral County Sheriff’s Office released a statement on their Facebook page today warning residents of some false evacuation orders. The sheriff’s office has heard reports of people driving up to homes and telling residents to leave immediately. If this happens to you, call the sheriff’s office.  During a real evacuation, a deputy or possibly firefighter personnel will come to your door and inform you.

Updated 12:50 p.m.

The Park Creek Fire 2 miles north of Lincoln has burned 5,136 acres and estimated to be 30-percent contained.

In coordination with the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff, an evacuation of the upper Stonewall Creek Road was initiated on Tuesday. That affected approximately 16 residences.

Earlier yesterday evening a spot came across the fuel break on the south edge of the Park Creek fire onto State land. Hand crews and a bulldozer were able to corral the spot and a hose line was laid.Despite the gusty winds out of the North last night, night patrols did not find any new spots.

Much cooler temperatures and higher humidity this morning will allow crews to really focus on cooling hot spots along the line.

The Northern Rockies Wild Land Fire Team will host a community meeting at Hooper Park in Lincoln this evening at 7:00pm.

The Sapphire Complex of fires burning about 25 miles south/southeast of Missoula in the Rock Creek Drainage raised enough concern Tuesday to prompt officials to issue some evacuation orders. The Granite County Sheriff called for a mandatory evacuation from Hogback Homestead south to the Kyle Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge. The evacuation order for Stony Creek south to Kyle Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge on Wednesday was rolled back to YELLOW, meaning a pre-evacuation status.  A pre-evacuation warning was issued from Hogback Homestead north to Butte Cabin.

The largest of the three fires in that complex, The Little Hogback Fire is listed at 7,450 acres with 0-percent containment. Fire activity and size increased yesterday, late afternoon. Aerial support, including retardant drops, focused on the southern edge of the fire. Last night, fire crews worked to construct fire line and assess structure protection measures for the people in the Red Evacuation zone area. Today, fire resources will continue to prep structures and provide protection in the Red and Yellow evacuation zones. Crews will work on line construction and begin firing operations to assist in securing the southwest side of the fire. The heavy equipment taskforce continues to establish indirect line on the east side of fire.

The Goat Creek Fire, has consumed 7,368 acres and is now 40-percent contained. Firefighters made good progress establishing secure line on the northeast side of fire and will continue to work towards the south.

The Complex’s Sliderock Fire is now at 816 acres and 20-percent containment. Firefighters continue to secure existing lines on the south and east edges of the fire. Aircraft provided support to ground resources with aerial delivery of water. 

Updated 11:30 A.M.

The Whetstone and Meyers fires burning 25-miles southwest of Philipsburg are now estimated at 11,593 acres. The fires burned aggressively Tuesday and merged together.

The Granite County Sheriff has issued an evacuation notice for Frog Pond Basin and Copper Creek Campground  areas last night. Today an evacuation notice was issued for the Moose Lake residents. There will be a community meeting at the Granite High School cafeteria, 407 Schnepel Street in Philipsburg, Wednesday evening at  7:00 P.M.

Today is expected to be a critical fire weather day. Relative humidity is expected to be in the low teens to single digits. Ridge top winds from the north and northwest are predicted and will increase to 15-20 mph in the afternoon. The current Fire Danger level across the forest is 'very high'. 

The Sunrise Fire, about 11 miles southeast of Superior, is now mapped at 10, 800 acres with 5-percent containment. 81 structures are threatened.

A strong inversion kept smoke in the area late into Tuesday afternoon which kept fire behavior low. The majority of fire growth yesterday was due to firing operations that helped strengthen containment lines and further protected structures. Day and night crews successfully used firing operations to control and check fire spread in the Sunrise Creek and Quartz Creek areas. Night shift crews patrolled neighborhoods for spot fires. No new hot spots were reported.

The big story today is the shift in wind direction. A cold front with easterly/northeasterly winds moved into the area which will result in cooler temperatures and higher humidity. This wind shift may increase fire behavior in areas previously sheltered from the wind, such as Verde Creek and Quartz Creek.

Structure protection continues in the evacuated areas of Verde Creek, Sunrise Creek, Quartz Flats and Quartz Creek, where firefighters will monitor fire activity around structures. Rivulet, Forest Grove, Lozeau, and Cougar Creek communities will see firefighters in the area conducting structure protection assessments. Firefighters are trying to talk to all property owners as they assess structures. Ribbons tied on mail boxes means that a structure assessment has been completed. A public meeting is scheduled for this evening, August 2, at 7:00 pm at Lozeau Lodge.

The Rice Ridge Fire remained quite active through the day yesterday and up until about midnight last night. The fire has grown to approximately 6,857 acres, mainly to the south and east.

An evacuation warning was issued Tuesday to residents on both sides of Highway 83 south of Rice Ridge Road to Morrell Creek and south of Cottonwood Lakes Road east of Highway 83, including the town of Seeley Lake and Double Arrow Ranch.

Law Enforcement Officers will have notified affected residents. This warning remains in effect. No actual evacuations have been ordered.

During the day various aircraft were dropping retardant and water on the fire. These aircraft are scooping water from Seeley Lake and dropping it on hot spots on the fire. Seeley Lake has been closed to all public activity for this operation.

A night shift continued to work the fire overnight. There was some concern about a shift in wind direction overnight due to an approaching cool front, which would move the fire in a westerly direction and toward town. The east winds did pick up a bit between about 10:00 p.m. and midnight, but died down after that.

The winds are expected to continue to blow toward town today; however, the same cool front has brought higher humidity and cooler temperatures which should keep the fire from being quite as active as it has been. Aircraft will continue to drop water and retardant today. Firefighting activities are prioritized by those actions that will have the greatest probability of success. Public and firefighter safety is the number one priority.

Tomorrow morning the Eastern Area Type 2 Team, under the command of Steve Goldman, will take over the management of fire operations. That team will continue to provide public information and is planning another public meeting in the near future.

The 3,220 acre Liberty Fire on the Flathead Reservation southeast of Arlee grew Tuesday on the south flank toward Hidden Lake and west into the South Jocko Canyon. Minimal fire growth occurred on the fire’s east flank where crews made progress in establishing containment lines along the western edge of 2003's Boles Meadow burn scar. There was little growth on the fire’s north flank where firefighters are working to establish containment lines.

Today, fire crews will continue to build containment line on the fires east perimeter along the Boles Meadow burn scar using the existing road system. The priority is to hold the fire at Boles Meadow and away from the communities of Placid Lake. Resources will be focused on the eastern flank while additional containment lines are scouted on the south flank. Crews may use strategic firing operations to remove unburned fuels between the containment lines and the main fire as conditions allow. Containment lines on the north and west flank will be improved and additional contingency lines well be constructed as resources become available.

Hotter, drier weather and east winds are expected in the next day. Low relative humidity and dry fuels will continue to challenge firefighters. Strong northeast and east winds are expected to push the fire to the west and south today in South Jocko Canyon and Hidden Lake. The winds are expected to help in keeping the Liberty Fire from moving east toward Placid Lake.

Firefighters are challenged by extreme burning conditions, heavy forest fuels and limited access in steep rough terrain. Fire activity can be expected to increase by early afternoon and smoke will impact communities to the west of the fire area. No evacuation orders are in effect at this time. The Missoula County Sheriff Department’s Evacuation Warning for the community of Placid Lake remains in effect. That warning is meant to give people extra time for final preparations should a mandatory evacuation be issued. 

The Lolo Peak Fire, southwest of Lolo currently stands at just a hair over 6,300 acres. An evacuation Warning was issued by the Missoula County Sheriff  Tuesday afternoon for the area south of Highway 12 from Fort Fizzle west to the intersection with the Elk Meadows road; this includes the Mill Creek area. A Public Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 3rd, at the Florence Baptist Church, 5561 Old Hwy 93, at 7p.m. Highway 12 remains open. 

Weather and fire behavior: Temperatures will be in the 80’s to low 90’s through the week with relative humidity in the 20 percent range. Following the frontal passage Tuesday night, today’s winds will be northeast to east with gusts to 15 mph. The northeast winds are expected to last through Thursday and then return to more typical northwesterly flow on Friday. The Fire will remain active to very active for the remainder of the week, continuing to move to the north and west.

Retardant will continue to be used today to limit the fire’s spread to the west. Aerial ignition will be evaluated for use on both the east and west side of South Fork Lolo Creek to limit southern growth and keep the fire west of the Bitterroot divide. Crews have completed 27 miles of control line between the fire and homes, along the Highway 12 and Hwy 93 corridors as they continue south toward Brooks Creek. Alternate lines are still being identified and constructed. Excavators, wood chippers, and dump trucks will work removing slash piles next to the control line. Firefighters and heavy equipment are working along the Elk Meadows Road for use as the primary control line. Stage II Fire Restrictions are in effect for Missoula and Ravalli Counties and across the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests.

The fire Tuesday became very active in the afternoon within the South Fork Lolo Creek drainage moving slowly both north and east, producing single and group tree torching. By late afternoon the fire crossed over Lantern Ridge entering the Cedar Creek drainage, initiating the Evacuation Warning by the Missoula County Sheriff.

On the west side of the South Fork Lolo Creek near the ridge line the fire is progressing towards Dick Creek. The retardant line that was established along the ridge between South Fork Lolo Creek and Johnny Creek is holding well and was extended north, limiting the westerly movement; utilizing 56,000 gallons of retardant. The southern perimeter of the fire experienced little movement so no aerial ignition was necessary. Following completion of the primary control line along the Highway 93 corridor the heavy equipment resources were relocated to work northwest of the fire along the Elk Meadows Road.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.
Related Content