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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 14, 2018

Glacier National Park
Howe Ridge Fire

Update 4:58 p.m.

The Highway 37 Fire that was threatening the former WR Grace asbestos mine north of Libby is now 100 percent contained.

Shawn Ray-Delmas, a spokesperson for the Kootenai National Forest, says the wildfire was fully contained a few days before an official announcement was made Monday.

"Yeah, we wanted just to make sure everything was actually really secure with all the weather and of course the additional lightning that we had on the forest this last weekend so just for reassurance purposes we had resources assigned and actually working that fire and they remained on scene through the weekend and we were able to comfortably put that at 100 percent.

The 70-acre fire caused particular safety concerns for firefighters assigned to it because of asbestos contamination leftover from Libby’s old W.R. Grace vermiculite mine. A crew of specially trained firefighters were brought in to deal with the contamination zone.

Ray-Delmas says now that the fire has been contained, firefighters will continue to patrol the perimeter and check for any new smoke starts in the fire’s interior.

Two of western Montana’s largest wildfires are burning in the Gravelly Mountain Range outside Ennis.

The 4,300 acre Monument Fire was started by lightning on Saturday night. The Wigwam Fire has consumed about 2,000 acres.

Butte Ranger District spokesman David Sabo says cooler weather and increased humidity are helping.

“We still expect some growth on the fire. There’s a lot of unburned material out there … but we really aren’t expecting a big push toward those subdivisions in the foothills that are north of the fire."

A  shelter has been set up at Ennis High School for evacuees in the Haypress Lakes subdivision in the paths of the fires. 

Update: 3:00 p.m.

The 4,000-acre, lightning sparked Goldstone Fire, burning 12-miles south of Jackson, Montana was first detected August 2. 

It started burning in a high elevation basin near Goldstone Pass, about 5-miles west of Reservoir Lake. That's 18-miles south of Jackson Montana in the Park Creek drainage in the Bitterroot Mountains, on the Montana and Idaho state border.

It is in steep, mountainous terrain and is burning in heavy mixed conifer fuels with very heavy concentrations of standing dead trees. This fire is being suppressed by creating fuel breaks and handline where possible. Firefighters Tuesday planned to continue prepping Bloody Dick Road and looking for spots that could possibly be outside the main fire perimeter. The fire is 0-percent contained.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team will assume control of the fire Wednesday morning. There is a re-route for hikers on the Continental Divide Trail. The Reservoir Lake campground and Bloody Dick cabin are closed. For more information contact Fire Information (406) 490-1818 or the Dillon Ranger District (406) 683-3900.

The 330-acre Coal Ridge Fire is burning in the Flathead National Forest, 10 miles west of Polebridge, Montana. It's burning in steep terrain with subalpine forest and brushy avalanche chutes. There are no evacuation warnings in place on this incident. The Coal Ridge fire was detected August 12th following a lightning storm across the Flathead National Forest. A Type 3 fire management team is assigned to the fire. Cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity Monday led to minimal fire behavior with limited growth. As a pre-emptive defense measure, the Coal Ridge Patrol Cabin was wrapped Monday night.  

Update 2:30 p.m.

Crews continue to make good progress on the Tenmile Fire19 miles southwest of Eureka, MT. Containment has ramped up to 70-percent as mop up continues. 

The Huckleberry and Cliff Fires continue to burn together  and will now only be referred to as the Huckleberry Fire. Crews utilized previous constructed dozer lines from the Tenmile Fire to directly attack both fires.

Heavy machinery and firefighters continued working on the Pinkham Tower Fire by creating fire lines utilizing roads around the fire. Just north of the Pinkham Tower Fire, firefighters began mop up operations on the small lightning fire that was discovered on August 12.  With favorable weather in the forecast, crews will continue to work to achieve progress on creating fire lines around all the fires. This week calls for temperatures in the 80s and light terrain driven winds. A cold front is predicted for Friday and Saturday which will bring higher winds and a chance of thunderstorms.

An official from the Garden Creek Fire, located 2 miles north of Hot Springs, reports progress continues. Firelines held through Saturday's Red Flag Warning, which produced sustained strong winds. The fire, under Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal  jurisdiction and burning on mostly tribal land, is still officially listed as 2,052 acres and 20-percent containment. It's being managed by a local Type 3 Incident Management Team. The Garden Creek Fire has shown no significant growth over the last 72 hours. 255 firefighters are assigned to the Garden Creek fire.

Update 2:00 p.m.

Two large fires are burning in the Gravelly Mountain Range outside Ennis. Yellowstone Public Radio reports the Monument Fire started Saturday night by a lightning strike.

It raced across nearly 4,300-acres of timber and brush in steep terrain. The other fire also ignited by lightning over the weekend is called the Wigwam Fire and its located in the Wigwam Creek Drainage. It's burned about 2,000-acres and getting closer to homes in remote neighborhoods. No buildings have been damaged. Butte Ranger District spokesman David Sabo says a shelter has been set up at Ennis High School for people evacuated from 54 homes in the “Haypress Lakes” subdivision in the paths of the fires. The Bureau of Land Management’s Dillon Field Office has temporarily closed the Axolotl Wilderness Study Area in Madison County due to the Monument and Wigwam fires. The order prohibits general public access to the Axolotl Wilderness Study Area to avoid conflicts with fire suppression activities.  A copy of the closure order and a map of the affected area are available at the Dillon Field Office, 1005 Selway Drive, Dillon, MT 59725. For more information, call (406) 683-8050. 

The 5,500-acre Davis Fire in the Kootenai National Forest slowed in growth yesterday. Slow growth is expected again on Tuesday thanks to smoke and intermittent cloud-cover over the fire. That lightning-caused fire in the Three Rivers Ranger District near Yaak, MT is about 5-percent contained. Canadian firefighters are managing the northern part of the fire. A Type II Northern Rockies Incident Management Team will assume command on Wednesday morning.

Update 1:30 p.m.

Northwest Montana is seeing significant air quality impacts due to a combination of nearby fires and a large amount of smoke transported in from Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia.  An air quality alert has been issued for Flathead, Lincoln, and Sanders counties due to the smoke. Air quality in Libby and Thompson Falls is currently "unhealthy"while air quality in Columbia Falls and Kalispell is currently "unhealthy for sensitive groups." Elsewhere, skies are hazy but most of the smoke is remaining above ground level, resulting in widespread "moderate" impacts. The cause of the widespread smoke is the significant fire activity along the west coast and British Columbia. A cluster of fires in northwest Montana and the Idaho Panhandle are contributing to ground level smoke, making conditions worse in that area than the rest of the state. No significant improvement is forecast this week, with another ridge of high pressure expected to build into the region later today that will remain in place through the end of the week. This ridge will not be as strong as the ridge that brought the oppressive heat last week. However, it will still act to trap smoke over the region, especially in northwest Montana. Fires are expected to remain active throughout this period, with smoke settling into northwest Montana valleys each night due to the stable conditions.

The lightning-caused Trail 467 Firesoutheast of Lincoln, in the Poorman Creek area, stands at about 20-acres and 30-percent containment. A pre-evacuation notice continues for residents in the McQuithy Gulch and Marsh Creek areas.  Cooler temperatures and light winds Monday helped fire crews. Dozers completed fuel breaks around the fire, helicopters helped douse hot spots with water-bucket drops and firefighters continued to construct fireline and mop up cooler areas of the fire. 

The 300-acre Shellrock Fire that's burning 25-miles north of Helena is in heavy timber and grass in steep terrain. The fire is primarily located in the Beartooth Wildlife Management Area and portions of private ranchlands. The fire is approximately five miles north of Beaver Creek Road, and two miles west of Middle Creek Lake. A high-voltage powerline and pipeline is in the area but not threatened at this time along with two ranch cabins and a historic cabin. Firefighters continue to patrol and secure the fire's perimeter and are preparing for a burn operation Tuesday if conditions allow.


Fire behavior on the Howe Ridge Fire northwest of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park moderated Monday thanks to more favorable weather conditions. 

Ground crews worked to limit the spread of the fire to the north. Firefighters worked throughout Monday night to suppress spot fires.

The fire is estimated at over 2,500 acres. Tuesday's weather forecast calls for calm conditions but it will remain hot and dry. Firefighters will continue to suppress spot fires along the north end of Lake McDonald. "Superscooper" air tankers and a helicopter will continue to drop water, focusing on the north and southwest edges of the fire.

The lightning-caused Howe Ridge Fire made a significant run Sunday night, despite active air and ground firefighting efforts earlier in the day. That prompted a series of evacuations on the North Lake McDonald Road, the Lake McDonald Lodge Complex, Avalanche and Sprague Creek Campgrounds, nearby hiking trails, and a portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. . The National Park Service has not completed a full inventory of all buildings lost to that fire run. Additional losses may be documented once crews are able to gain full access to the area.

The fire is still very active and crews continue to work to protect the remaining structures along North McDonald Road. Approximately seven private summer residences and additional outbuildings were lost at Kelly’s Camp at the end of North Lake McDonald Road. Additionally, the main Kelly’s camp house, a second cabin, and other structures under National Park Service ownership were destroyed. One Kelly’s Camp home did survive the fire, as did multiple other privately owned homes and structures in other areas of North McDonald Road.

The National Park Services believes that three outbuildings of the National Park Service-owned Wheeler residence, the Wheeler boat house and the boat house at the Lake McDonald Ranger Station were lost. The main Wheeler cabin did survive, after firefighting efforts that saved it after it caught fire.

The Lake McDonald Ranger Station was also saved, following a fire on its roof.

Flathead County Commissioners Tuesday unanimously voted to enter Stage 2 fire restrictions,  joining every other land management agency in northwest Montana. Stage 2 restrictions prohibit any open burning, including campfires. Exceptions include fire fueled solely by liquid petroleum or other actives with a permit or written authorization. But individuals are still responsible for any fire started by exempted activities.

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