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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 20, 2018

The Wigwam Fire burning near Ennis on Aug. 15.
The Wigwam Fire burning near Ennis on Aug. 15.

Rain in western Montana Monday did little to slow fire growth across the state.

"Well it’s a mixed blessing," said Jay Nichols, a spokesperson assigned to the Monument and Wigwam Fires burning south of Ennis. "So obviously wind isn’t a good thing, rain’s a good thing, but I don’t know that it will be a substantial amount of rain."

Nichols says together the fires are burning more than 10,000 acres. An evacuation notice for the Haypress Lakes area in the Shining Mountains Subdivision was reduced Monday to an evacuation warning.

The Bitterroot National Forest said crews are battling seven new, lightning-caused fires. One of those fires is near Darby, and the other six are east of Painted Rocks Reservoir. All of the fires are remote and less than an acre in size, said spokesperson Tod McKay.

Firefighters have responded to 26 total fires on the Bitterroot this season.

The 9,000-acre Goldstone Fire and the 2,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire continue to burn in the Beaverhead and Deerlodge National Forests. A community meeting on the blazes will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Community Building in Wisdom.

Multiple fires continue to burn in the Kootenai National Forest. Spokesperson Shawn Ray-Delmas said only the Gold Hill Fire, burning about 13 miles north of Libby, grew over the weekend. It more than doubled in size, from about 460 acres on Friday to about 1,000 acres on Monday, Ray-Delmas said. She also said high winds predicted for today could bring with them the possibility of more fire growth throughout the Kootenai. 

Fire crews have made substantial progress in blazes burning on the Flathead Reservation. The Garden Creek Fire, burning about 2,000 acres near Hot Springs is now 100 percent contained, said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Fire Prevention Specialist CT Camel. Firefighters also managed to contain a lightning-strike that burnt a single tree on tribal land. 

The Shellrock Fire burning about 25 miles north of Helena has grown by more than 100 acres since Friday, but crews on scene have made substantial progress on containing the blaze. The fire is now 55 percent contained, and burning about 500 acres. Two ranch cabins, a historic cabin, and a high-voltage powerline pipeline are in the area, but not currently threatened. More than 100 personnel are currently assigned to the fire.

A spattering of rain in the Flathead Valley Monday morning did little to slow fire growth there.

"We did have a weather system that came through this morning that had some erratic winds, so we're a little concerned about how that's going to push around the fire," said Brian Haines, a spokesperson assigned to the fires in Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest.

Haines said smoke cover was so dense this weekend that pilots sometimes couldn’t see the fire and were not able to update acreage estimates.

He said dead and downed trees in steep terrain makes ground-level fire fighting difficult and dangerous.

"A lot of this is us building containment lines and sort of waiting for the fire to come to the containment lines," he said.

Fish Creek Campground area is now under an evacuation order, along with Avalanche and Sprague Creek Campgrounds, private residences along North Lake McDonald Road and the Lake McDonald Lodge. Apgar area is under an evacuation warning.

Lauren Alley is a spokesperson for the Park. She said while there’s a temporary flight restriction above the Howe Ridge Fire, crews continue to work rebuilding the Sperry Chalet dormitory, which burned in the Sprague Fire last summer.

"Right now those crews are continuing to work very hard, hustling against winter," Alley said. "We are watching the helicopter resources to see if any of those might get pulled into a fire operation, but right now that work is proceeding."

She said closures on the Park’s west side, including a big chunk of Going-To-The-Sun Road, have opened some areas of the park normally overwhelmed with traffic.

"I looked at the Logan Pass webcams this morning and there were plenty of parking spots up top," she said. "That's of course very rare for August."

Most of western Montana remains under "extreme" fire danger and Stage 2 fire restrictions. That means no campfires or outdoor smoking.

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