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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For July 25, 2018

A fire discovered Tuesday on Mt. George in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness
Bitterroot National Forest

UPDATE 6:00 p.m.:

The Wawa wildfire is no longer considered a threat to critical sage grouse habitat on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

Winds have pushed the fire away from grouse habitat and firefighters have taken a more managerial position, allowing it to burn within the control lines the crews put up.

The Wawa wildfire has burned a total of 2,421 acres and roughly 1,000 acres of critical sage grouse habitat on the CMR, according to Mike Granger, fire management officer for the refuge.

“And now we’re allowing the fire to consume itself from the interior. There’s quite a bit of fuel there that still needs to burn and so that’s what we’re doing. We’ve got the control lines in and now we’re managing the fire for multiple objectives cause fire is good on our landscapes in a lot of areas and that’s what we’re doing.”

Firefighters took aggressive measures to stop the spread of the fire earlier this week in some of the best sage grouse habitat in the state, since the birds are considered a near threatened species with dwindling numbers.

The fire burned a long and narrow swath of land after a lightning strike last week, but with cooler temps and some humidity, the conditions are perfect to control a slow moving fire that’s burning fuels that, Granger says, need burning anyways.

Granger estimates another 500 acres may burn, but since it’s now moving towards the Fort Peck Reservoir, it will likely stop there.

The Wawa fire is now moving towards the Missouri River and Fort Peck Reservoir, but since crews are flanking the fire from the north, east and west, “There’s really nowhere that it can go to the south cause once it hits the reservoir, it’s done. As far as threats to our sage grouse habitats, we’ve pretty much controlled that and we don’t foresee any future threats,” Granger says.

UPDATE 4:00 p.m.:

The Bacon Rind Fire in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park grew almost 140 acres since yesterday. It currently has a 340-acre perimeter with islands of burned timber and brush. Two 20 person crews and two light helicopters are assigned to the fire.

An estimated 200 acres are within national forest lands and 140 acres are within the park.

The fire is about 20 miles south of Big Sky and is not threatening any structures.

Smoke may be visible from Highway 191, but is not currently threatening the road. Fire officials are asking motorists to use caution, as smoke will cover the road.

The Bacon Rind Trail in Yellowstone Park and in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness is closed to the public

UPDATE 3:53 p.m.: 

On the Highway 37 Fire, outside Libby, Incident Commander Jeremy Nelson says "We did that [burnout operation] yesterday successfully and everything is holding within our containment lines. So the fire is estimated to be about 70 acres on the ground."

The Reynolds Lake Fire southwest of Darby is now being called 50 percent contained, up from 35 percent contained yesterday. The Bitterroot National Forest says, “One 20-person Hotshot crew was released today. Additional resources will likely be released later this week as fire activity decreases and containment grows.

"Firefighters are working today to locate and contain any additional spot fires, secure all flanks, and continue mopping-up at least 50-feet inside the perimeter. Engines will patrol Forest Road #044 containing any spots, mopping up, and supporting hose lays

“Two new lightning-caused fires were discovered yesterday on the West Fork Ranger District in Idaho’s Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Both are 1/10 acre and are located on Mt. George, six miles east of Paradise Campground and two miles NW of Cooper Flat. They were reported by a fire lookout in the area following several lightning strikes. A helicopter dropped buckets of water on the fires yesterday to try and suppress them. This morning, four smokejumpers were flown to the area and are currently on scene working to suppress one of the fires. The second fire has not shown any activity following the bucket drops. The fires are located in extremely steep, rugged and rocky terrain. There are no structures threatened or closures at this time.

"Firefighters have responded to 6 lightning wildfires and one human-caused fire this summer on the Bitterroot National Forest.”

Crews on the Highway 37 Fire outside Libby did burnout operations on the eastern flank last night, “allowing for a complete black line around the perimeter."

The burnout operations were successful and will help prevent roll out material from igniting unburned fuel on the lower edge. The firefighting efforts are taking longer than usual due to the need of specially trained personnel and equipment” due to its proximity to the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine, which is a federal Superfund site.

Early this morning firefighters planned a 12 acre burnout operation to secure the black lines, and to complete it by 10am. ”This action increases the opportunity for lines to hold through the forecasted weather over the next few days,” says a release at

The fire’s size remains steady at 51 acres.

Travel on Hwy 37 near the fire continues to be controlled by Lincoln County Sheriffs. Some delays can be expected for safety of firefighters and the public.

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