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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 18, 2017

Evacuation and warning areas for the Lolo Peak Fire, August 18, 2017.
Evacuation and warning areas for the Lolo Peak Fire, August 18, 2017.

As of 6:40 p.m. there is a new evacuation order along the north side of Highway 12, west of Stella Blue Dr., including all of Sleeman Creek Rd. The order does not include Stella Blue Dr.

Update: 6:00 p.m.

As of 5:40 p.m Highway 12 has been closed at Roper's gas station about 3 miles west of Lolo due to increased fire activity in Mill Creek area. There's currently no timeline for when the road will reopen. Follow along here for updates as they come in.

Update: 5:30 p.m.

Two homes southwest of the town of Lolo were destroyed last night by the fast-growing Lolo Peak Fire. They were among the more than 750 residences currently evacuated. Several outbuildings in the area were also burned late yesterday.

Firefighters and people in the Lolo and Florence areas are anticipating the arrival of a predicted dry cold front. It was forecast to arrive around 3 p.m. but was still on its way an hour later. Fire information officer Mike Cole says, even without the cold front, things are now getting more active on the 19,000 acre Lolo Peak Fire.

"We’re getting into the main part of the burning period, regardless of wind. So people are going to start seeing a lot more smoke in the air here pretty quick."

Cole says firefighters have been working to hold firelines today after two homes were destroyed last night southwest of the town of Lolo. That includes extensive use of aircraft.

A contingent of 155 National Guard troops based out of Missoula are being delployed to the Lolo Creek Fire and are expected to go on duty tomorrow. They’ll mostly be helping out with roadblocks and security for areas that have been evacauted. The evacuation area was extended today in the Florence area. You can see an updated evacuation map here.

Update 1:30 p.m.

Officials on the Lolo Peak Fire say "several structures were burned" Thursday night, and the outlook for today isn't very promising. A Red Flag wind warning is in effect though Saturday morning. Firefighters are preparing for winds ranging from 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 40 mph this afternoon and evening. In addition to the winds, relative humidity will drop to the mid- teens today and the atmosphere will be unstable, contributing to the potential for extreme fire growth, according to the fire's incident command team.

Firefighters expect growth in all directions today, and are concentrating their efforts on the northeast side of the fire. They'll be strengthening fire lines and working on structure protection, especially in places where the fire is moving from the mountain into the valley.

Evacuation orders remain in effect. This afternoon, those orders were expanded to include the area west of Florence Carleton Loop, north to Tie Chute Lane. The area currently under evacuation order is on the west side of Highway 93, extending south from mile marker 78 all the way to Holloway Lane. Highway 12 remains open with a pilot car for access through the fire area.

There is also an evacuation warning area from Holloway Lane south to Bass Creek Road.

A warning means that there is a probability of the need to evacuate. Residents should make arrangements to move property and livestock.  People with special health needs or other concerns should relocate during the warning.

For safety reasons, permitted reentry to evacuated homes has been indefinitely postponed.

The Red Cross has opened a shelter at the University Congregation Church located at 405 University Avenue in Missoula. For animal sheltering call Animal Control at 541-7387 and leave a message.

Fire officials ask that you do not stop along the highways to view fire activity as it creates a significant traffic hazard.

On the Sapphire Complex southeast of Missoula, Evacuation orders include: Red Evacuation Order: (Mandatory) from Hogback Homestead south to Stony Creek and Upper Willow Creek Road (8/16). Yellow Pre-evacuation Orders: Sliderock Mountain area (8/15), northern Rock Creek drainage from Babcock Creek to Bobcat Creek, Butte Cabin to Hogback Homestead, Stony Creek to the Kyle G. Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge, and the Kyle G. Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge to McDermott Gulch on Upper Willow Creek, and Marshall Creek/Black Pine Subdivisions (8/16)

Rock Creek Road from I-90 south to Harry’s Flat (MP 17.5) is open. The Rock Creek Road is closed from Harrys Flat south to Kyle G. Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge, and non-fire traffic is not allowed. Upper Willow Creek Road is closed to the public. All closures on the Lolo and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests and the Bureau of Land Management remain in effect. Closure orders and maps under the closures tab on Inciweb.

The Sunrise Fire burning near Superior is at over 33,000 acres in size, and is also on alert for Red Flag weather conditions today.

Over the last two days, helicopters spread about 100,000 gallons of retardant on the north side of the Trout Creek drainage (the green, unburnt side) to pretreat fuels. Crews progressed adding fire below Magone Mountain ridgeline to keep the fire backing downslope toward Trout Creek. The fire is near the bottom of the slope in several areas. On the contingency line north of Trout Creek, hand crews worked to tie in machine lines on the steeper slopes. Crews cleared out snags on 8 miles of Road 450 (Verde Creek). Engine crews patrolled the sawdust piles at the pellet mill for spot fires.

Today: Firing operations will progress further up Trout Creek as well as patrolling and reducing fuels along the road. Hand crews will continue work on the contingency line north of Trout Creek. In other areas, crews will chip piles of brush created from fuel reduction actions along roads and around structures. Portable fire boxes will be used to consume large quantities of brush that has been hauled off the line. Firefighters will mop-up and patrol around homes from Quartz Creek to the Verde Creek areas.

An approaching dry, cold front has warranted a Red Flag Warning to be issued for today from noon through 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

The only areas in Stage III evacuation are Upper Trout Creek, Lower Trout Creek, Quartz Creek, Cougar Meadows, and Cougar Creek. There are no areas in Stage II.

The area closure around the Sunrise Fire now includes Trout Creek Road (#250). Road blocks are in place near the Pellet Mill (lower Trout Creek) and at the upper Trout Creek Road intersection with Road #7813, near the Divide. Travelers from Cedar Creek should use Hoodoo Pass Road (#388) which takes you through Freezeout Pass Road (#3881/7813), and then back on to Road #250 to the SW. Travelers should also be advised to use high clearance vehicles and no trailers.

Seeley Lake has reopened to the public. Fire officials on the Rice Ridge Fire say they've switched to aircraft which don't scoop water from the lake.

Yesterday, they made progress on strategic firing operations on Morrell Mountain, and worked to strengthen fire lines in preparation for today's Red Flag weather, which brings increased potential for fire growth.

Another community meeting will be held Monday, August 21 at 6 p.m. at the Seeley Lake Elementary School.

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