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

Lolo Peak Fire Burned Through Nearly 5,000 Acres Wednesday Night

The Lolo Peak Fire sends a large plume of smoke into the air, visible from Missoula on the evening of Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
Anne Hosler
The Lolo Peak Fire sends a large plume of smoke into the air, visible from Missoula on the evening of Wednesday, August 16, 2017.

Western Montana’s Lolo Peak Fire burned through almost 5,000 acres during its run Wednesday night west of Lolo. Stiff winds spurred that now 15,000 acre fire on its four mile push to the east.

"Where the fire moved, to an extent was not a surprise as it relates to the overall plan. How quickly it moved to where it did, obviously, nobody was necessarily expecting that to happen as quickly as it did," says Lolo Peak Fire Information officer Bill Queen.

Last night’s extreme fire behavior on the Lolo Peak Fire prompted law enforcement to order the evacuation of hundreds more homes south and west of Lolo.

The evacuation order was extended further south today along Highway 93. The extension is on the Highway’s west side and runs south from mile marker 78 to Tie Chute Lane in Florence.

Residents from Tie Chute lane south to Bass Creek Road, meanwhile, are now in an evacuation warning area. That means people should make preparations to leave on a moment’s notice.

Fire spokesman Bill Queen says today’s plan included hammering the fire with aerial water and retardant drops. Ground crews were also expected to intentionally light fires along established control lines on the fire’s eastern edge, “so that we can gain an anchor on the east to burn back to the west, towards the approaching fire. That gives us an opportunity to control it where it made that big run yesterday.” 

Queen says fire managers long predicted it would move to the east, but were surprised by how quickly it did so.

They have a small window to prepare for the next round of gusty winds. National Weather Service meteorologist Trent Smith says while today’s wind should be calmer than yesterday’s, another dry, cold front is expected to arrive by late Friday.

“What does that mean? It means an increase in winds across the region," Smith says. "Plus more unstable conditions; especially late afternoon on Friday.”

Smith says it’s likely that wind speeds late tomorrow will meet or even exceed those from Wednesday night. That could affect all of the fires burning in western Montana.

A Red Flag warning is now posted from noon tomorrow through 6 a.m. Saturday for the Flathead Valley, Glacier National Park, the Salish And Kootenai Reservation, the Bitterroot National Forest as well as the Beaverhead/Deerlodge National Forest.

Smith says no cool, wet weather systems are expected for the foreseeable future.

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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