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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For September 12, 2017

The Strawberry Creek fire seen from a helicopter, September 11, 2017.
The Strawberry Creek fire seen from a helicopter, September 11, 2017.

Rain and cooler temperatures forecast for later this week may not end the fire season, but a meteorologist says "it will put a dent in it." The cool, wet weather system will bring welcome relief to firefighters, those whose property has been threatened and communities that have dealt with smoke-filled air for nearly two months. Until then, keep your HEPA filters running, and tune in here for your daily wildfire updates.

Rice Ridge NE of Seeley Lake

The fire line is becoming more secure each day in the Seeley Lake area. Forest Road 720 has been holding with no spot fires for several days on the northwest corner of the fire. The spot fire above Camp Creek continues to back down to road, and crews continue mop up along several fingers of fire in Camp Creek, Findell Creek and Murphy Creek drainages. Indirect fire line along Forest Road 4363 and adjoining dozer line towards the 2015 Richmond Peak fire scar remains in place as a backup to Forest Road 720. Mop up and patrol continues from Murphy Creek south to Little Shanley Creek near Kozy Corner. Firefighters are putting out all sources of heat, and have eliminated any heat source within 100 feet of the fire line in most of this area. A large smoke column visible in the afternoon north of Seeley Lake was coming from the Babcock Creek drainage, but did not threaten fire lines.

A large aerial burnout operation that has been taking place on the mountain north of Forest Road 477 between Little Shanley Creek/ Black Canyon Creek on the west and Cave Creek/Dunham Creek on the east (6 miles wide) has been proceeding as planned. About 1:00 am last night the Flathead Hotshots completed a hand-firing operation on approximately 3 miles of the shaded fuel break along Road 477 in the area between Big Shanley Creek and Cave Creek west of Monture Cabin.

Heavy equipment continued to remove logs and slash from the shaded fuel break on Forest Road 477 west of Monture Cabin and mop up is nearly completed in the cabin area. Shaded fuel break construction continued east from Forest Road 89 towards Coopers Lake. Seeley Lake was closed to water craft use for a second day so fixed-wing scooper planes could "scoop" water from Seeley Lake to drop on the east side of the fire in McDermott Creek to keep the fire from moving south towards homes around Coopers Lake. Structure protection continued around the homes at Coopers Lake, Seeley Lake and Placid Lake (east of the Liberty fire). Night patrol and mop up focused on fire lines near Seeley Lake and Forest Road 477.

Today: Winds will be out of the west today at 10 mph, gusting to 22 mph on ridge tops. Fire activity is expected to pick up by late afternoon as smoke clears, and smoke columns may develop over active parts of the fire. Firefighters will continue to hold and mop up along Forest Road 720 on the northwest corner of the fire. They will make improvements to Forest Road 4363 and the adjoining dozer line to the 2015 Richmond Fire. Mop up and patrol will continue from Camp Creek south and east to Little Shanley Creek near Kozy Korner. Aerial ignition burnout operations will continue for the third day between Little Shanley Creek/ Black Canyon Creek on the west and Cave Creek/Dunham Creek on the east to bring the fire down to Forest Road 477. Hand ignition burnout operations will continue from Shanley Creek west to Little Shanley Creek to complete the shaded fuel break burnout started last night along Forest Road 477. Heavy Equipment task forces will continue indirect fire line, shaded fuel break construction, and log and slash removal east towards Coopers Lake. Structure protection is in place around Coopers Lake and air operations will continue in the McDermott Creek drainage to keep the fire from moving south towards Coopers Lake. Firefighters will coordinate operations with their counterparts on the Park Creek Fire.

Evacuations and Warnings: Powell County evacuation order: includes the Monture Cabin area and the Coopers Lake area. Powell County evacuation warning: includes all other areas of Powell County north of Highway 200 between the Missoula County line on the west and the Lewis and Clark County line on the east.

Missoula County evacuation orders and warnings: All Evacuation Zones near Seeley Lake remain under Evacuation Warning.

Strawberry Creek SW of Heart Butte

The 10,500 acre Strawberry Creek Fire burning in the Bob Marshall Wilderness SW of Heart Butte exhibited active fire behavior starting yesterday afternoon when it moved south across the Middle Fork of Birch Creek into heavy fuels where it burned aggressively into the South Fork of Birch Creek. Through the evening, it made its way to the east, breaching a rocky reef that runs due south from the Swift Dam. The Chief Mountain Hotshots, equipment operators, and night-shift engine patrols engaged the fire as it came off the Forest onto state land and efforts are ongoing today. Helicopter and fixed wing aviation are available today to include three helicopters, the superscooper, and air tankers for water and retardant drops as they are needed to check and slow the fire's progress.

On the Flathead National Forest, the fire actively moved across Strawberry Creek and Trail #161 onto the east facing slope of the ridge between Strawberry and Cox Creek. The fire displayed a flanking crown fire along the top of the ridge over Cap Mountain toward Badger Pass. Additional closures in the Cox Creek drainage are anticipated.

Authorities initiated two evacuations of residences/ranches residing within a line drawn from Heart Butte to Birch Creek and then from Birch Creek to Ben English Coulee. Additionally, pre-evacuations were initiated for the remaining residences up to and including Heart Butte and down the Swift Dam Road to include Dupuyer. Direct any evacuation questions to the Pondera County Sheriff's Dispatch at (406) 470-6163, Teton County Sheriff's Office, (406) 466-5781, or Blackfeet Tribal Law Enforcement Dispatch at (406) 338-4000.

Lake Frances is closed to all public use so that fire aircraft can use it fill up on water.

Public meetings for the Strawberry, Scalp and Crucifixion fires: Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at 6 p.m. at the Heart Butte School-Multi-Purpose Room . Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 6 p.m. at the Dupuyer Community Hall.

Highway 200 Complex near Plains & Thompson Falls

Over 300 personnel are working on the 24,000 acre Highway 200 complex in the Highway 200 corridor near Plains and Thompson Falls. Yesterday, crews were successful at burning unburned fuels to shore up their lines.

Sheep Gap - 40% Contained - 13,414 acres: Pre-Evacuation orders remain in effect for areas along River Road West to the north of the fire. Heavy equipment is being used on the north side and in Swamp Creek to complete a shaded fuels break. Continue burn-out operations along the dozer line towards Poachers Gulch. Smoke will be visible as the burn-out operation progresses. Firefighters continue to implement control actions and provide structure protection along the contingency lines located north, east, and south of the fire.

Deep Creek - 0% Contained - 5,733 acres: A Pre-Evacuation order is still in effect East of the Clark Fork River in the Blue Slide Area. Please the National Forest Closure Order for Blue Slide Road near Belknap. The fire is backing downhill towards Graves Creek and is being held on mechanical lines. Weather conditions are allowing the primary objective of implementation of a burn-out operation to remove unburned fuel between the main fire and established firelines. An existing hose-lay, which is a combination of hose strung along fireline, are also being used to wet the areas adjacent to firelines. Smoke will be visible as areas within the fire continue to burn.

Cub Creek - 0% Contained- 4,034 acres: Pre-Evacuation orders are in effect for an area west of Highway 200 from White Pine Creek to Cherry Creek. Containment lines have limited fire growth. Burn-out operations will continue east from Haines Point Rd. The fire is expected to continue growth south toward the Clear Creek drainage. Resources from the Reader Fire, including engines, heavy equipment, water pumps, and sprinklers, are staged below the fire and will be deployed for structure protection if needed.

Reader Fires - 95% Contained - 152 acres (total): The Reader 1 and Reader 2 fires are being managed conjointly due to their proximity. Mop-up activities continue the Reader Fires in addition to the efforts to improve existing containment line. Resource will be redeployed to the Cub Creek Fire as they become available.

Miller Creek - 0% Contained - 892 acres: This fire continues to be monitored and patrolled for fire growth. Appropriate resources are in the area.

There will be a public meeting about the Highway 200 Complex at 7 p.m. on September 12 at the Community Center in Thompson Falls.

Sprague Fire NE of West Glacier

Yesterday, the fire continued to flank to the North on Mt. Brown. Three water dropping helicopters kept hot spots in check on Mt. Brown near the lookout as well as on Snyder Ridge. Today, fire activity should be similar to yesterday. Walton Creek drainage may see some increased activity due to the slope alignment and westerly winds. The fire is 14,750 acres.

Structure protection work continues in the Lake McDonald Lodge and North Lake McDonald area: Sprinklers and road spraying around the Lake McDonald Lodge complex increased the humidity and cooled the immediate area, creating a "rain forest" micro-climate. Pumps and hose lay systems have been installed in the Avalanche Creek Campground, Trail of the Cedars area and North McDonald Lake area. Fuels reduction work around the historic ranger station is completed. The Wheeler Cabin is wrapped and firefighters have made good progress extinguishing hotspots around the Sperry Chalet complex.

An evacuation order is in place: Area residents and park visitors were evacuated on Sunday, September 3, 2017. The evacuation order remains in effect from the south end of Lake McDonald north to Logan Pass. This includes the North McDonald Road. This does not include the Apgar area at this time. Logan Pass is still accessible from the east side of the park. The duration of the evacuation is unknown at this time.

Most areas of the park remain open: 18 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road between St. Mary and Logan Pass, Granite Park Chalet, Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier are currently open. Please check the park website for closure information and current conditions at

Fire Information Phone: 406-387-9092

Lolo Peak Fire

Missoula County has lifted the evacuation warnings on Highway 12 between Bear Creek and Graves Creek. Evacuation warnings remain in place west of Highway 93 from South Kootenai Creek Road to Holloway Lane.

Firefighters put 75,000 gallons of water on the western perimeter keeping the fire in check and suppressing a spot fire just outside of the perimeter. The fire continued to back down into the Brushy Creek drainage. No burn operations took place today and helicopters dropped retardant at the top of the ridge between the South Fork of Lolo Creek and Bass Creek. Mop-up work progressed along the Elk Meadows road on the west side of the fire. Monitor, patrol and mop-up of recent burnout operations continued on the east side of the fire. Suppression repair work continued in the Highway 12 corridor.

Today: As a result of the continued warm, dry weather, fuels are critically dry. Mop-up continues around the 373 Road in Brushy Fork and along the west side of the fire. Crews are completing suppression repair work on the Highway 12 corridor and will be working into the Highway 93 corridor. Firefighters are patrolling the east side of the fire. Minimal burn operations may take place as necessary to manage the intensity of the fire as it progresses south.

Sapphire Complex SE of Missoula

Although yesterday was an active fire day in several locations on the Meyers Fire and Sapphire Complex, there was minimal fire growth. Today, helicopters will be used to cool hot spots and monitor fire activity.

Three fires comprise the Sapphire Complex: Little Hogback, Goat Creek, and Sliderock. The fires are in steep, rocky terrain between Rock Creek and Upper Willow Creek drainages.

Little Hogback Fire: 34,539 acres

The east side of the fire is in patrol status with some rehabilitation starting on the north side. Firefighters continue to secure the south-central part of the fire's periphery where active fire remains. There is also active fire on the northwest side and structure protection along Rock Creek Road is a priority, particularly in the Idle Ranches subdivision. Structures are prepped and sprinklers are in place to protect residences. Helicopters continue water drops to help keep fire growth in check. Unburned pockets in the interior continue to burn but this fire should be in monitoring and patrol status soon.

Goat Creek Fire: 8,300 acres

Firefighters continue rehabilitation of constructed fire breaks and some heat remains in the interior.

Sliderock Fire: 900 acres

There has been no growth in the overall size of this fire; any hot spots are in the fire interior. Rehabilitation of constructed firelines will follow after this work is completed for the Goat Creek Fire.

A mandatory evacuation (Level Red) order for approximately fifty-six structures along Upper Rock Creek Road remains in effect. It starts at and includes Wild Rose Loop south to Stony Creek. Pre-evacuation (Level Yellow) notices remain in effect for Upper Rock Creek Road from Stony Creek south to the Kyle G. Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge. It includes residences on the lower Cornish Gulch Road and Basin Gulch Road, and Upper Rock Creek Road residences from Bobcat Creek south to Hogback Homestead. Pre-evacuation orders have been lifted for the Marshall Creek subdivision, Upper Willow Creek north from the intersection of Upper Rock Creek Road and the Upper Willow Creek Road, and the Rock Creek drainage from Babcock Creek south to Bobcat Creek.

The Frog Pond and Moose Lake areas are still under a mandatory evacuation order and the Billie Springer Memorial and Bonanza subdivisions are under warning for evacuation. Additionally, an evacuation warning is in effect on East Fork Road from FS Road 5778 to Little East Fork Rd (FS Rd 724) on the Bitterroot National Forest. Those under an evacuation warning should be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.

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