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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For September 1, 2017

Type 1 Chinook helicopter with bucket on Nelson Creek Fire
Type 1 Chinook helicopter with bucket on Nelson Creek Fire

Governor Steve Bullock this afternoon declared a state of disaster in Montana due to wildfires. Two previous executive orders declared states of emergency. This disaster declaration allows Governor Bullock to mobilize additional state resources and more Montana National Guard troops to combat the fires. It is in conjunction with a directive to the Montana Department of Transportation that temporarily suspends certain regulations in order to make it easier to transport heavy firefighting equipment.

Fire activity is likely to ratchet up this Labor Day weekend, with forecasts predicting hot and dry conditions.

"Any nearby fires are definitely going to plume up this weekend on Saturday and Sunday," says Genki Kino, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula.

By Monday, Kino says a backdoor cold front from Canada will bring in some cooler temperatures. But a four-month outlook released today by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise predicts September will continue hot and dry with above normal fire potential in northwestern states, including Montana.

Some residents of the more than 1,000 homes evacuated from the Seeley Lake area almost a week ago were allowed escorted visits back into their homes today.

Mark Vosburgh, a spokesman for the Rice Ridge fire that displaced the residents said he was in Seeley Lake speaking with evacuees this morning.

“The sheriff’s office was actually escorting some folks in and giving them a little bit of time to go in and tend to things or get things that they didn’t get out during the evacuation," says Vosburgh. "Certainly it’s been disruptive for them and they’re anxious to get home.”

Despite the escorted visits, all existing evacuation orders and warnings in the area remain in effect, and Vosburgh says it is still unclear when that will change. But, he says, several new fire crews arrived on the scene today, including a Hotshot crew, bringing total personnel for the Rice Ridge fire to 729.

That, combined with better wind conditions, could mean successful operations for the next few days.

"With the lower winds that are forecast compared to the Red Flag days we had earlier in the week, we’re really hoping to start getting some of those areas buttoned up and contained and conduct the firing operations we need to get some of that unsecured line contained," Vosburgh says.

Classes for Seeley Swan High School in Seeley Lake are being relocated about 20 miles away to The Resort at Paws up next week. Seeley Swan High is currently part of a mandatory evacuation zone for the Rice Ridge Fire.

The Rice Ridge fire is currently 18 percent contained.

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