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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For July 29, 2019

A map of the North Hills fire area and associated evacuation zones, current as of the morning of July 29, 2019.
A map of the North Hills fire area and associated evacuation zones, current as of the morning of July 29, 2019.

Updated 4:45 p.m., July 29, 2019

Lewis and Clark County Emergency Management says it will live-stream tonight's 6:00 p.m. public meeting on the North Hills Fire on it's Facebook page, and that Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will, too. Click here to go to Lewis and Clark County Emergency Management's Facebook page.

Updated 4 p.m., July 29, 2019

A Red Flag Warning for the North Hills Fire is currently in effect from the National Weather Service. High temperatures and the potential for afternoon thunderstorms and gusts of up to 50 mph could heighten fire behavior this afternoon. 

Updated 1:39 p.m., July 29, 2019

This morning’s InciWeb update on the Beeskove Fire says it, “is mapped at 182 acres and is consuming unburned fuel within the main fire perimeter, with some new growth on the southeastern flank of the fire moving away from Missoula. The fire is at zero percent containment. Yesterday, crews strengthened the anchor point and fire line on the western flank of the fire and were successful in laying down hose line in this area.

Today, fire personnel will continue to strengthen the anchor point, improving containment lines on the southwest corner of the fire from Rattlesnake Creek to the fire’s edge.”

Six helicopters are working the fire - three Type 1, two Type 2, and one Type 3.

“Firefighter safety remains top priority. Burning and rolling debris, due to the steep slopes, along with rugged terrain remains a challenge for firefighters. Reconnaissance flights and additional scouting will aid fire managers with determining where firefighters can safely engage the fire. Four Hotshot crews, two Type II crews, and six helicopters are working to contain the fire under a full suppression strategy. Currently, there are 170 personnel assigned to the fire. No structures are threatened at this time.

“The area closure remains in place for the Rattlesnake Recreation Area which includes the Horse Trailhead, and numerous trails.

“The public can expect to see an uptick in traffic on the Rattlesnake Drive in the morning and afternoon when firefighters are driving to the staging areas to begin operations”.

Updated 1:32 p.m., July 29, 2019

The latest update on the North Hills Fire says Mike Almas’ Type 2 Incident Management Team has assumed command of the North Hills Fire. It is currently estimated at 4,225 acres and zero percent containment.

Click here for the most recent map of the fire area and associated evacuation zones.

This morning’s update on InciWeb says, “Yesterday, crews continued active structure protection in the Black Sandy Loop area. The fire continued to progress to the south/southeast, staying active late into the night. However, to-date the fire was still north of Snowdrift Road. Along the fire’s northern and northwestern perimeter, crews took advantage of air support to begin work on direct line construction. Numerous aircraft are aiding firefighters via helicopter water drops to help cool hotspots and retardant drops to slow fire spread.

“Today, firefighters will continue to engage the fire and construct direct line where feasible (most likely along the western and northwestern fire perimeter). Due to fire intensity, wildland and structural firefighters will continue to provide point protection to structures and infrastructure. Air support will continue to support crews on the ground.

“Private property, structures, and infrastructure in the Timber Trail area, El Dorado Heights, and American Bar area are threatened. Additionally, grazing lands, recreational improvements along the Missouri River (White Sandy Campground, Black Sandy Campground), and potentially power lines in the vicinity may be threatened.

Evacuations and Closures: Residents in the Timber Trail, El Dorado Heights, and American Bar areas have been issued evacuation orders; no entry/re-entry into closure areas will be allowed. All residents in the immediate vicinity of this fire are strongly encouraged to sign up for reverse 911 at, should the need for further evacuations be warranted. All BLM lands in the vicinity are closed, and some road and area closures are also in effect to provide for public safety. Residents in the general vicinity should remain vigilant and refer to the Lewis and Clark County Emergency Management and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page for any status updates. See the closures tab on for more details.

The National Weather Service is predicting a Red Flag Warning beginning this afternoon. Temperatures will be in the mid-80s with humidity in the 15-20% range. By this afternoon, thunderstorms will move into the area, bringing the potential for very strong outflow winds, gusting to potentially 50 mph.

Fire Managers will host a public meeting, TONIGHT, 6:00 p.m., at the Helena Valley Community Center. Open burning is closed.”

Updated 1:17 p.m. July 29, 2019

Wildland firefighters are beginning to wind down their efforts to contain the Moss Ranch Fire near Ronan on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The lightning-caused blaze grew up to 5,310 acres over the weekend and closed a few roads, but no structures were harmed.Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire Spokesperson C.T. Camel says a major burnout operation Saturday was successful and the fire is now 60 percent contained.

"Prior to the weekend, there were high winds, so the major focus was holding the control lines over the weekend when those winds came about. Higher temps, lower relative humidity, but everything held in check and everything is looking pretty good right now," Camel said, adding that portions of the 170 personnel battling the fire will be sent home today and Tuesday. He expects the fire will be nearly or completely contained by the end of the week.On the North Hills Fire Lewis and Clark County Emergency Management says a public meeting will be at 6 p.m. tonight at the Helena Valley Community Center at 3552 Tizer Road. "It is across from Warren School and has more room."

Crews battling the fire in Helena got a little relief yesterday after strong winds Saturday blew the fire up from an estimated 100 acres to more than 2,600 acres. But the fire still grew Sunday.

"The weather treated us a little bit better, not quite the same winds that we had, and fairly moderate behavior," said Duane Buchi, a spokesperson for the team fighting the North Hills Fire. Despite the fire growing to more than 4,200 acres yesterday, he says crews managed to keep homes from burning this weekend and made other progress.

"They established a new heli(copter)-base up by Gates of the Mountains, and it’s a very large area," Buchi said. "If there is a silver lining, it helps that literally the (fixed wing aircraft) 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."

Yesterday Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton issued an evacuation warning notice on top of previous evacuation orders that had approximately 600 homes evacuated over the weekend. The evacuation warning area extends from Ferry Drive west to Interstate 15, and north of Lincoln road.

"There’s a general warning, basically going from the edge of the evacuation area going west to I-15," Buchi said. "Just be ready, be aware, keep your eye on information updates that come out, and listen to your regular newscasts and maybe prepare some things into one location should you need to grab the most important stuff to you and throw it in your vehicle and have to leave so you don’t have to be searching for it when the evacuation order comes."

A Red Flag Warning for critical fire conditions remains in effect on the Helena and Townsend Ranger Districts from 3 p.m. this afternoon to 9 p.m. this evening. Forecasts call for lightning and a mix of wet and dry thunderstorms with gusty and erratic outflow winds.

That red flag warning also includes all of the Beaveread Deerlodge National Forest and the Salmon Challis National Forest.

Management of the fire is set to transition from a type 3 to type 2 team today. It is believed the fire is human caused and its origin is currently under investigation.


On the Beeskove Fire in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area north of Missoula, fire crews had a, “very good day” yesterday, according to fire team spokesperson Tod McKay.

He said firefighters were able to build some fireline from Rattlesnake Creek to the edge of the fire and that an additional hotshot crew started work yesterday, the fire now has, "six helicopters, four Hotshot crews, two 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 latest infrared mapping shows the Beeskove Fire at 182 acres.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock has declared a state of emergency to allow truck drivers to work longer hours to deliver aviation fuel and other supplies to crews battling wildfires.

Bullock issued the declaration yesterday, saying increased demand for fuel and supplies had put a strain on drivers' hours.

At least four wildfires are burning in western Montana.

The Bannack Fire south of Butte has burned more than 150 acres, and the Moss Ranch Fire near Ronan has burned more than 4,800 acres.

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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