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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 8, 2018

A wildfire burning north of Hot Springs on the Flathead Reservation grew substantially over the past 24 hours, leading to the evacuation of one home.

The Garden Creek Fire is now listed at over 1,840 acres. According to Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal fire prevention specialist CT Camel, that’s a 1,300-acre growth spurt since yesterday.

“Yesterday it had a pretty good push to the south/southeast," Camel says. "There was wind on it and it stayed warm through the night. Firefighters were reporting taking weather and it was 80 degrees at two in the morning. The fire behavior was not acting like two in the morning.” 

Camel say the fire activity prompted one evacuation.

"Yes, there was one home at the bottom of 5,000 Road," he says. "Those individuals were evacuated, machinery came in and put a line around the house. They actually dropped a few retardant drops around the house. Then they actually burned out around the house to secure the house.”

Camel says the Garden Creek Fire is currently about a half mile away from that house. No other structures or assets are threatened at this time.

Scorching hot temperatures and bone-dry conditions are forecast for Thursday and Friday, followed by gusty winds on Saturday.

180 firefighters are working that incident.

The Bacon Rind Fire on the border of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park grew only slightly, from 488 acres Monday to 500 acres today. Smoke may be visible from Highway 191, but the fire is not threatening any structures.

Firefighters are not actively working on putting the fire out, due to hazardous down and standing dead trees.

Light wind is expected overnight and in the morning, but may grow during the day. A strong cold front with gusty, erratic winds is predicted for Saturday afternoon at the fire site.

A community meeting will be held at the Community Protestant Church in West Yellowstone at 7 p.m. on August 15.

The Goldstone Fire just west of Reservoir Lake in the Bitterroot Mountains, near the Montana-Idaho border, remains steady at 125 acres and is 0 percent contained. There is a closure in the area south of Forest road #7327, east of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, north of the ridgeline between Eunice Creek and Park Creek, and west of Forest road #7402. Forest Road #7402 and Trail #1144 are closed. A section of the Continental Divide Trail is being rerouted. Firefighters are making a hand line tying into the Continental Divide Trail and are using heavy equipment to make a fuel break.

A fire weather watch will be in effect for most of western Montana from Friday afternoon through Saturday evening. According to the National Weather Service, low humidity and near record high temperatures are expected for Friday. A dry cold front is expected to move in on Saturday bringing wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour. 

Stage II fire restrictions will go into effect at noon on Friday in west-central Montana. The restrictions prohibit campfires, smoking and off-road driving and  are in effect on forest land, fishing access sites and wildlife management areas in Missoula, Ravalli, Mineral and Sanders counties and on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Stage One Fire restrictions will go into effect in Blaine and Hill Counties - they apply to all state, private, and Bureau of Land Management lands and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, part of which is located in Phillips County.

Fire managers in the Flathead Valley say this weekend could carry the highest fire danger so far this summer. Fire danger in the Flathead moved to “extreme” earlier this week.

Manny Mendoza, a fire management officer on the Flathead National Forest, says Montana firefighting crews currently stationed in California will start coming home as western Montana enters the heat of its fire season.

Wyatt Frampton with the DNRC says Flathead area agencies are doubling their response capabilities.

“We're coordinating bringing in additional aircraft, heavy equipment, things like dozers and excavators, as well as additional people in the form of handcrews and fire engines as well,” Frampton says.

Those resources include 12 local helicopters and two CL215s (commonly called Super Scoopers) on loan from Saskatchewan.

Rick Sacca with the Flathead Office of Emergency Services says the county responded to 72 wildfire-related incidents in July.

“For the first seven days in August we had 102,” Sacca says. “That's a significant increase, but it was about half the number we had in 2017.”

Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager Lincoln Chute says a number of those starts were human-caused.

“We just really need the public to give us a hand because we can't do anything about the lightning starts, but what we can do is limit the human caused starts so that we can concentrate on the lightning starts,” Chute says.

He says anything from a flicked lit cigarette to dragging trailer chains can start a fire. Debris burning is illegal now, and campfires should be smaller than a three-foot diameter and doused with water until they’re dead-out.

He says human-caused wildfires pull first responders from other incidents that could be life-threatening.

Manny Mandoza with the Forest Service says agencies are ready to hit each new start hard.

“We're going to send what we have. We're going to send engines, helicopters, dozers and hit it hard, just with the conditions that we have,” he says.

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