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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 8, 2017

Andy Lyon/Inciweb

A fast-growing fire discovered last night southeast of Eureka has prompted new evacuations in that area, and at least one injury on that fire.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office is estimating that the Gibraltar Ridge fire is about 1,400 acres in size now. They evacuated about 30 residences in the wee hours of this morning, and an estimated 100 more homes are on evacuation standby.

“Conditions are hot and dry, and if people feel threatened, they need to practice self-evacuation because as this shows, fires can pop up at any point and you can’t wait for a knock on your door. You just need to evacuate at any time,” says Haley Graf, a public information officer with the Western Montana Type Two Management team that’s taking over management of the fire.

A local type III management team with the Forest Service and volunteer firefighters from Eureka and Trigo areas have been battling the wildfire up until now.

"The fire as an emerging incident has exceeded the local capabilities," Graf says. "So, they have ordered in a type two incident management team just to bring in a lot more people and a lot more resources.”

Graf says some of the type two management team have already arrived and more will be showing up tonight, through tomorrow. A shelter for evacuees has been set up in Eureka.

At least one firefighter has been injured on that fire. Kalispell Regional Medical Center has confirmed that Jarrel Miller is at their facility and is in good condition. A Facebook post by Miller’s son Tyrel said that his father has a concussion and needed six staples after a hose line charged and threw him off of a fire truck. The post says they’re hoping Jarrel Miller will be released from the hospital tomorrow.

The same thunderstorms that are believed to have sparked the Gibraltar Ridge fire resulted in at least 20 confirmed lightning strikes from Eureka to the Flathead Valley. Smoke columns from several fire starts caused by that storm were seen today in Glacier National Park. A park spokesperson says initial attack teams rappelled into what’s being called the Snyder Ridge Fire near Lake McDonald, where they are fighting a quarter-acre blaze.

Fire crews in the park also successfully controlled another fire up the North Fork and are on their way to investigate additional fire starts as they are reported.

Visitors to Glacier National Park should expect smoky conditions and check for trail status updates on the park’s website.

There is a community meeting tonight at 7:00 about the Sapphire Complex of fires. That meeting is at the Rock Creek Fisherman’s Mercantile east of Clinton.

The Sapphire Complex consists of three fires burning a total of about 33,000 acres south of I-90 and east of Missoula.

The largest is the Little Hogback, which is about 17,000 acres and remains at zero percent containment.

The 8,000 acre Goat Creek Fire is being called 75 percent contained. Today, fire managers
planned to shift personnel from the Goat Creek to the Little Hogback to provide support.

The Sliderock Fire is about a third contained at 850 acres.

Tonight’s meeting about those fires in the Sapphire Complex will also be streamed live on the Lolo National Forest facebook page.

The Rice Ridge fire near Seeley Lake has burned about 8,500 acres and is 10 percent contained. Yesterday the fire grew considerably on the east side toward the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Catherine Koele, a fire information officer said low humidity presented a problem.

“Fuels are really drying out. We had some fire runs to the east heading toward the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Definitely not a good day. We’ve had a lot of aircraft in the air.”

Multiple helicopters and scooper planes are dropping water and retardant on the southeastern edge to try and slow the spread.

Fire activity is expected to increase today in the Blind Canyon area, where crews are mobilizing heavy equipment and aircraft for support. 

A community meeting to discuss the fire is taking place Thursday at 6 p.m. at Seeley Lake Elementary School.

Helicopters and ground crews continue battling the 7,000+ acre Lolo Peak fire burning 10 miles southwest of Lolo.

Fire activity remains high due to dry conditions and hot temperatures today.

No new evacuations are in effect. An Evacuation Warning remains in place for the south side of Highway 12 from Fort Fizzle, west to the intersection with the Elk Meadows road; including Mill Creek.

The fire is expected to continue spreading to the west down to the South Fork of Lolo Creek.

Stage II Fire Restrictions are in effect for Missoula and Ravalli counties and across the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests.

Updated 1:32

The Gibralter Ridge Fire is one of several fires in the greater Eureka, Montana area.

The Following areas are under immediate evacuation: Sherman Creek, Griffith Creek, Therriault Pass, and Stevens Creek. The following areas are under a standby for evacuation: Graves Creek.

Ten Lakes Senic area is now CLOSED by Forest Service.  Graves Creek is Closed at the Therriault Pass intersection. Flathead County is CLOSING the Eastern Boundries of Ten Lakes area at the TuChuck Campground on Lewis Creek.

These fires were caused by lightning late Monday night (August 7th). The Gibralter Ridge Fire grew overnight to at least 800 acres and is currently threatening structures and residences to the east of Eureka, MT. Residents are encouraged to practice self-evacuation. As wildfires can emerge quickly and expand rapidly, do not wait to be told to leave. If you feel threatened or concerned for your safety, it is always safer to leave early. For evacuees of the Gibralter Ridge Fire, there is a shelter set up at the Church of God, 1295 2nd Ave East, Eureka. Livestock can be taken to the County Fair Grounds in Eureka and smaller animals and pets can be taken to the Tobacco Valley Animal Shelter. 
The Flathead County Sheriff's Office says a Type II Fire Team will assume control of this incident within a day or two.
Arrastra Creek Fire: 6 miles northwest of Lincoln. 4,002-acres/30-percent containment.
Crews continue to improve containment lines and reinforce the fuel break on the southern flank of the fire. The crews are working in steep, rugged terrain along the perimeter of dense stands of standing beetle killed trees and snags, with the safety of fire personnel and human life as the highest priority.
The Arrastra Creek Fire has exhibited minimal growth with small pockets of fuel burning within the perimeter. It’s smoldering and creeping in the timber understory and with occasional areas of heavier fuels burning off. An area of the fire that was backing into the Theodore Creek drainage was controlled with a small burn out operation yesterday.
Until the heat in that area begins to cool, smoke will be visible from the town of Lincoln and the surrounding vicinity throughout the day. A cold front approaching from the north will bring increased winds and a chance of thunderstorms over the fire area this evening and into tomorrow. The temperature and humidity is expected to be similar to yesterday, near seasonal averages.  
The Sapphire Complex: There will be a community meeting Tuesday, August 8th, 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 John Thompson's Central Montana Type 2 IMT 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.
Little Hogback Fire: 17,139 acres, 0% contained. Firing operations were conducted along the eastern containment line to remove unburned fuel between the line and the fire. Smoke and low visibility prevented aerial resources from supporting those efforts yesterday. Firing operations and aerial support will resume today as conditions allow. Contingency dozer lines south of the fire have been completed. Work will begin today on a new primary line closer to the fire near Ram Mountain. In the southern Rock Creek corridor, fire backed downhill through a large area of unburned fuel behind the Hogback homestead cabin. Today, structure protection crews from the Goat Creek fire will begin moving south to assist in protection efforts on the Little Hogback fire.
Goat Creek Fire: 7,968 acres, 75% contained. Fire resources identified and extinguished several smokes and burning roll out logs while patrolling along the Rock Creek and Brewster Creek roads yesterday. A hotshot crew extended their line north of Brewster creek along the south east corner of the perimeter. Engines patrolled the north edge of the fire cooling pockets of heat that continue to exist along the northern perimeter. Today, hotshot crews will work inward from the eastern flank of the fire and conduct burning operations to remove unburned islands of fuel.
Sliderock Fire: 842 acres, 30% contained. A spike camp crew monitored and held fire line on the south and southeast flanks today. Indirect line east of the fire will be improved today.

Updated 12:40

Flathead National Forest spokeswoman Janette Turk says this morning's dry thunderstorms in the greater Flathead-area resulted in at least 20 confirmed lighting strikes, two of which have produced smoke columns in Glacier National Park. 

Initial attack teams are rappelling into what's being called the Snyder Ridge Fire near Lake McDonald. Turk says it's currently estimated to be less than a quarter acre in size. The location of other small smoke column in Glacier is unclear right now.

This morning's weather produced lots of lighting and wind, but hardly any rain.

We'll have more information as it comes in.

Updated  11:15 a.m.

Gibralter Ridge Fire: The Lincoln County Sheriff's office estimates that some 30 residences have evaucated with another 100 or so now under pre-evacuation warning. Residents are encouraged to practice self-evacuation. As wildfires can emerge quickly and expand rapidly, do not wait to be told to leave. If you feel threatened or concerned for your safety, it is always safer to leave early. For evacuees of the Gibralter Ridge fire, there is a shelter set up at the Church of God, 1295 2nd Ave East, Eureka. Livestock can be taken to the County Fair Grounds in Eureka and smaller animals and pets can be taken to the Tobacco Valley Animal Shelter. 

Gibralter Ridge Fire:  The Lincoln County Sheriff's office issued early morning evacuations  for the following areas East of Eureka: Sherman Creek Road, Griffith Creek Road, Therriault Creek Road, North Stevens Creek Road, Graves Creek Road

Pre-Evacuations are currently being prepared for and will be served by our Law Enforcement and Emergency Officials for the following areas: East Glenn Lake Road to Stevens Road

This new fire is suspected to have been started by lightning this morning or last night in the North East Canyon above Hood Drive. It is reportedly one of "several fires burning in the Eureka, Montana area.". 

Kootenai National Forest spokesman Willie Sykes  estimates its size at 800 to 1,000 acres.

Sykes says a Type II Incident Management team is en route and should assume control later today. 

The 14-thousand-acre Sunrise Fire burning 11 miles southeast of Superior is now listed at 20-percent containment.

Warmer and drier conditions are forecast today. Thunderstorms are possible Wednesday afternoon and evening.

There is potential for fire growth to the north and south threatening structures in Quartz Creek and Verde Creek. Burnout operations will continue in Quartz Creek, Brushy Gulch and Verde Creek. Crews are mopping up around structures to secure control lines. Continued fire growth to the north and south will threaten structures. Long range spotting has the potential to cross the Clark Fork River and I-90 impacting traffic, the Montana Rail Link rail line, transmission lines and additional structures. Burnouts along control lines will be necessary to direct the main fire front away from communities.

Continued fire perimeter growth is expected along uncontrolled fire edges. A stage 3 evacuation order remains in place for Quartz Creek and Verde Creek Zones, as set by the Incident Population Protection Plan. Area closure around the Sunrise Fire incident is from Trout Creek south to Forest Service Road #341.

Rice Ridge Fire: 8,423-acres with 10-percent containment. The next public meeting will be held on Thursday, August 10 at 6pm at the Seeley Lake Elementary School.

Monday’s weather provided for moderate fire activity along the northwest, while the fire experienced considerable growth on the east toward the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Fire crews on the west side of the fire continued to improve fire line. Hose lays and sprinklers were completed along Highway 83 structures. On the southeast side of the fire, crews started to build control line to the east along Cottonwood Lake Road. Indirect fire line started to be constructed along the southern line in preparation for any fire growth. Helicopters worked the northwest and east ends of the fire. Fire retardant was dropped along the eastern edge to impede spread.

The concerns today are in the Blind Canyon area, where fire activity is expected to increase. Heavy equipment and aircraft will be used to construct line and slow fire spread to the south and the southeast. Crews are continuing structure protection preparation and assessments in Seeley Lake along Cottonwood Canyon and along Cottonwood Lake Road east of the Double Arrow Ranch.

The Meyers Fire southwest of Philipsburg has burned 13,236 acres with 4-percent containment. It did not show significant growth Monday but activity did increase with higher afternoon temperatures. Stable conditions and smoke cover in the area continues to prevail, helping keep fire behavior low. However, should these condition change, fire activity will increase. Firefighters continue making great progress constructing and strengthening indirect contingency lines in the northern and eastern flanks of the fire and crews are successfully removing excess fuels from lines. Heavy equipment use south of Moose Lake is nearing completion and will be transitioning north. Hand crews will continue cleaning lines and preparing to construct hose lay’s where feasible and prepare to suppress the eventual advance of the fire. These efforts, utilizing existing roads and natural barriers, present the most effective and safest option for stopping the fire growth when and if it moves toward them. This fire will be a long duration fire and will grow larger over time. Residents of the East Fork Reservoir and Georgetown areas can expect to see fire vehicles and equipment for the near future. While the Meyers fire is not posing an imminent danger to those areas, the incident management team and local fire staff are developing a longer term contingency plan to protect those communities. Solid progress continues on the 4,125-acre Liberty Fire southeast of Arlee. It’s now 90-percent contained. The fire will continue to back and flank into the early evening with isolated and group torching. Humidity recoveries are not predicted to be very high tonight so this activity will continue later into the evening. Tomorrow changes in the weather forecast will lead to less active fire behavior. Smoldering and creeping fire with isolated torching is expected to continue. Predicted thunderstorms could lead to more active fire behavior. The fire will be most active in the South Fork of the Jocko River/Gold Creek divide area.

The Lolo Peak Fire southwest of Lolo has burned 7,292-acres.

Warmer and drier today and, after the smoke lifts, parts of the Lolo Peak Fire could become more active, on the fire’s northern edge, mainly in Cedar Creek, the South Fork of Lolo Creek and Johnny Creek on the northwest side of the fire. Some single tree and group torching may occur. The fire continues to be active with high temperatures and dry conditions. Helicopters continue to drop water and fire retardant to slow or “check” fire spread to the North and Northeast and to the Southwest. Fire is expected to continue spreading to the west down toward the South Fork of Lolo Creek. To the southeast, crews are completing a primary containment line a short distance into Idaho, tying into an old fire scar. Firefighters are seeking opportunities to construct alternate containment lines between the established lines (along the valley bottoms in the Highway 12 and 93 corridors) and the fire perimeter. No new evacuations are in effect. An Evacuation Warning remains in place for the south side of Highway 12 from Fort Fizzle, west to the intersection with the Elk Meadows road; including Mill Creek. This is not an order to evacuate, only a warning so citizens can prepare should evacuations become necessary. Highway 12 remains open. Please do not stop along the road to view fire activity as it creates a traffic hazard.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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