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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For July 28, 2019

Map of the North Hills fire perimeter and evacuation areas, published 4PM Sunday here:
Map of the North Hills fire perimeter and evacuation areas, published 4PM Sunday here:

Updated 10:03 p.m., July 28, 2019

For the North Hills fire, the Red Cross has opened a shelter at Helena First Assembly of God church 2210 Dodge Ave.

Duane Buchi, a spokesperson for the team fighting the North Hills fire says, “the weather treated us a little bit better today, not quite the same winds that we had (Saturday), and fairly moderate (fire) behavior.”

He estimated that about 100 more people joined the firefighting effort today, and that among progress made was, “they established a new heli-base up by Gates of the Mountains, and it’s a very large area.” Buchi said fixed wing air tankers had been very active on the fire Sunday. “If there is a silver lining, it helps that the literally the tanker base here in Helena is minutes away from the fire itself, so we’ve got ready access that usually goes on a lot longer turnaround,” Buchi said.

On the North Hills Fire, Lewis and Clark County officials say they, “are getting lots of questions about returning to residences. THE EVACUATION ORDERS HAVE NOT BEEN LIFTED and they don't expect to be able to even consider it for at least another 24 hours. Please do not go back to your homes if you have left. While no structures have been lost, the fire is still threatening many.

“For folks wishing to make monetary donations or donate from out of state, they can send it to Eric Dowell at Helena Safeway, 611 N. Montana Ave., Helena, MT 59601. They are currently checking as to whether they are able to do credit card payments over the phone with all the recent fraud activity. Eric is a member of the Fire Council and all money will go directly to the Council to distribute to the volunteer fire departments.”

Updated 12:15 p.m. July 28, 2019

The North Hills Fire in Helena exploded from an estimated 100 acres yesterday morning to an estimated 2,600 -plus acres by nightfall. A map based on infrared sensorsis available here.

A public meeting on the fire is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, a location has not yet been set. 

“The red flag weather yesterday played a significant role in fire spread,” fire officials say. “Strong winds in combination with heavy fuel loads continues to impact aerial and ground firefighting operations.”

Sunday morning the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it has authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the North Hills Fire, following a request from the state early this morning.

A FEMA press release says: “At the time of the request, 600 homes were immediately threatened. The fire was also threatening infrastructure, including a dam, major electrical transmission lines, county roads, and watersheds in the area. Mandatory evacuations have occurred for approximately 500 people. ... The fire is zero-percent contained ... and is burning on federal, state, and private lands.

“The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires. These grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire.

Fire Management Assistance Grants are provided through the President's Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.”

Additional evacuation orders were given last night by Lewis and Clark County Sheriff to include two subdivisions across the Missouri River: American Bar and Eldorado Heights. That’s in addition to previous evacuation order for the Black Sandy and White Sandy campgrounds and homes on Noble Lane, Snowdrift Road, Big Belt Drive down to 6445 W. Haven Rd., Mountain Meadow road, Beginning at 6425 Timber Trail and north, Countryside Road, Black Sandy loop, Church Hill Lane.

There are no reports of structures lost at this time.

Today’s planned operations include working in and around homes in the wildland urban interface and securing sections of the perimeter where possible.

Today’s weather forecast calls for a period of gusty northwest winds in the afternoon. Disturbances will bring a chance of wet and dry thunderstorms to southwest Montana on Monday, then into portions of central Montana on Tuesday, with erratic wind gusts as the main threat. Warmer than normal temperatures and a chance of thunderstorms are expected through the week.

There are approximately 140 personnel on the incident including 10 engines;, 2 helicopters, and 3 type II initial attack crews. Additional resources have been ordered including a Type II Incident Command Team, engines, Type I crews, tactical water tenders, and various aircrafts.

The fire’s origin is unknown, but human cause is suspected. It is zero percent contained.

Incident Command for the North Hills fire can be reached at (406) 458-3508

Public safety officials say, “traffic and congestion problems pose a major threat to the safety of individuals involved in incident management activities. Please remain aware when traveling on roads impacted by the wildfire as conditions are constantly changing.”


Updated 10:12 PM 

Interviewed at about 8:45 PM Sunday, Tod McKay, a spokesperson for the Beeskove fire said firefighters had “a very good day” and made progress building fireline from Rattlesnake Creek to the fire’s edge.

The Beeskove fire remains zero percent contained.

McKay said that a Hotshot crew from Sacramento, California arrived Sunday that that leaders have not ordered additional resources at this time. McKay said the team not includes, “Six helicopters, 4 Hotshot crews, 2 Type-2 crews, about 125 people working on that fire. We think right now that that’s about the right resources to be able to be effective and try to get into some of these new areas and certainly if further scouting we feel like having more crews would be beneficial we’ll certainly make those orders.”


The Beeskove Fire grew to 115 acres, up from an estimated 35 acres Saturday morning.  A map based on an overflight with infrared sensorsis available here.

Firefighters were pulled off the fire from 5 p.m. Saturday until 7 a.m. Sunday morning for safety reasons due to sustained winds over 30 mph, associated with the passage of a dry cold front. Helicopters working the fire were grounded from 5 - 7  p.m. Saturday. 

Most of the fire’s growth yesterday was to the southeast, away from Missoula.

The fire’s size was estimated at 40 acres last night, up from an estimated 35 in the morning. An overflight with infrared sensors was planned for last night and fire officials expect to have an updated size estimate soon.

The Beeskove Fire was started by lightning in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area about five miles northeast of the main Rattlesnake trailhead north of Missoula.

The fire’s behavior is described as, “active with wind-driven uphill runs and short crown runs. Without the support of bucket drops the fire began making uphill runs,” 126 people are currently assigned to the fire.

An information phone number, staffed M-F 8:00 AM to 6:00 pm is 406-531-1130.


The lightning-caused Moss Ranch Fire 14 miles southwest of Ronan on the Flathead Indian Reservation is now 5,310 acres and 40% contained.

It is burning in grass and timber in steep, rocky, rugged terrain. No structures or other infrastructure are threatened at this time and there are no evacuation notices. There are 170 personnel assigned to the incident.

Today firefighters will focus on securing all control lines 200 feet in from the perimeter. This heavy mop-up operation will utilize engines, water tenders and hose lays.

The following roads are closed until further notice: Nenemay Road, FB-1000 and FB-4000 Road.

High pressure today will bring sunny skies, cooler temperatures, from 80 to 85 degrees will result in slightly higher relative humidities. Winds are forecast to be upslope/upvalley at 4-8 mph in the afternoon and 10-20 mph on ridgetops.

Get the latest wildfire, fire management and air quality news for Western Montana and the Northern Rockies, on your radio during our morning and evening newscasts, via podcast, or in your inbox each day.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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