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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 2, 2019

A red flag warning means critical fire weather conditions are in the forecast.
National Weather Service
A red flag warning means critical fire weather conditions are in the forecast.

Updated 8:14 p.m., August 2, 2019

Mandatory evacuation notices are in place in the Eagle Canyon and Stickney Creek areas north of Craig because of the Eagle Canyon Fire, which is burning between 20 and 25 acres. 

The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office is giving evacuation notices to the following roads: Eagle Canyon Road, July Road, Lil’ Valley Road, Werner Drive, North Fork of Beaver Slide Road, Spring Drive, Cold Water Drive.

The Cascade County Sheriff’s Office is participating with evacuations and road blocks.

According to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, three DNRC engines, multiple county engines, at least one air tanker, two DNRC helicopters and multiple Type 2 hand crews are on the scene fighting the fire.

Updated 6:41 p.m., August 2, 2019

There is a community meeting for the Black Diamond Fire scheduled for Saturday, August 3 at 5 pm at Hooper Park, Lincoln.

Updated 6:03 p.m., August 2, 2019

Evacuations are underway in a subdivision north of Craig right now due to a new fire burning on the border of Cascade and Lewis and Clark counties.

Lewis and Clark Sheriff Leo Dutton says the Eagle Canyon Fire has the potential to come down onto Interstate 15, near where Eagle Canyon Drive and Craig Frontage Road meet. Sheriff Dutton was unable to say how many structures are threatened at this time or the number of evacuees. Eagle Canyon Road is closed. Dutton says Evacuations are for the Stickney Creek area.

Updated 5:22 p.m., August 2, 2019

A fire has so far burned over roughly 3,700 acres in Petroleum County, about 35 miles east of Winnett.

Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Al Nash says they learned about the Ridgetop Fire Thursday at noon. The blaze, burning in grasses, shrubs and timber, grew quickly, he says - to about 1,000 acres by sundown - and it doubled in size overnight due to a passing thunderstorm.

Nash says, once they call in additional personnel, the type 3 crew will have reached about 100 people on it by the end of the day. He says they’re at 0% containment.

Nash says high temperatures, low humidity, and gusty winds are contributing to the continued strength of the fire. As are dry fuels.

Nash says lightning may have been the cause, but that’s unconfirmed at this time.

While no structures are threatened, he says if the fire grows significantly, it could move onto the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

Updated 4:53 p.m., August 2, 2019
A new very active fire is burning southeast of the Highway 200 - Highway 279 junction in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. 
It was burning 35 acres as of 5:00 this afternoon and the situation was developing and changing rapidly, according to the U.S. Forest Service. 
Airtankers and a heavy helicopter were working on the fire earlier this afternoon before strong winds pulled them off the fire. Two Hot Shot Crews and heavy equipment are now responding on the ground. 
The Black Diamond Fire is very near the Continental Divide Trail and the Forest Service says it has closed a section of the trail south of Flesher Pass. 
The cause of the North Hills Fire was someone shooting at exploding targets. That was confirmed today by Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.

The North Hills Fire started a week ago today, and grew rapidly, causing evacuation orders for an estimated 400 homes about nine miles northeast of Helena. As of today it is estimated to have burned more than 5,000 acres.

Sheriff Dutton says the fire started when a person shot an explosive Tannerite target. 

“Nothing malicious about this, it was an accident. Unfortunately it did cause a lot of damage,” he says.

Dutton says the person, who is not yet being identified, tried to put out the fire but failed to do so and then reported the fire immediately and turned themselves into law enforcement.

The state is not bringing criminal charges, but there could be civil penalties, meaning the person could be on the hook for firefighting costs.

The Bureau of Land Management also investigated the cause of the fire but did not immediately return Montana Public Radio’s call for comment.

Updated 4:20 p.m., August 2, 2019

The type 2 incident management team that’s been managing the North Hills Fire nine miles north of Helena is being re-assigned at 6 p.m. to the Nevada Creek Fire that lightning sparked mid-day Thursday on the Powell-Lewis and Clark County line about 20 miles north of Elliston. The Nevada Creek Fire is estimated to be burning 80 acres. No structures are threatened at this time. Two Hotshot crews and multiple aircraft, including the Very Large Air Tanker are fighting the fire. It has closed many roads and trails in the area, find a list of them here.

The National Weather Service has most of the western half of Montana under a red flag warning Friday. It’s in effect until 9 tonight and stretches from the border with Canada south and into Idaho.

A map of fires on the Lincoln District of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest issued about 2pm Friday
Credit InciWeb
A map of fires on the Lincoln District of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest issued about 2pm Friday

Once again hot temperatures, low humidity, gusty winds and lightning strikes from dry thunderstorms will contribute to extreme fire behavior for much of Montana. 

Fire restrictions continue in 10 counties. Toole, Madison, Beaverhead, Blaine, Petroleum, Golden Valley, and Cascade counties are under open burning bans until further notice. While the counties of Ravalli, Lewis and Clark and Jefferson continue to ban debris burning.

Firefighters are responding to a 20 acre fire discovered Friday on the Lincoln Ranger District. The Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest released this info Friday afternoon.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says a fire line has been established around the 52-acre Tornilla Fire west of Kalispell. Crews were also able to lay hose around the entire blaze Thursday in anticipation of this afternoon’s red flag warning. As of late afternoon, DNRC says the fire was 80 percent contained.

The fire was sparked Tuesday by an unknown cause that’s under investigation. The blaze has not seen much growth other than a few spot fires outside of the fire line Thursday, which firefighters quickly put out. Air support continued dropping water on the fire throughout the day.

No structures have been threatened and no evacuation orders have been given.

DNRC is also responding to a small fire that was reported off Highway 93 about 15 miles northwest of Whitefish Thursday evening. The Lower Stillwater Fire is located on state lands and is estimated to be about two acres. DNRC has assigned one helicopter to the fire and Flathead National Forest and local firefighters are assisting on the ground.

Responders will work to establish a fire line through the day as winds are expected to pick up.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warnings for the Flathead and Kootenai national forests as well as Glacier National Park from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid 80s to lower 90s through the weekend and no precipitation is expected.

Hotshot crews continue to extend lines around the Beeskove Fire today amid a red flag warning for “critical fire weather.”

The fire has grown to 250 acres within the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, while containment remains at 0 percent.

Firefighting team spokesperson Chris Ziegler says the region’s steep, inaccessible terrain has limited opportunities for ground crews to engage the fire’s edge, which means it will likely take an “extended effort” to suppress the blaze.

“Because we are unable to get in and do what we would really prefer to do, which is direct attack right there on the fire line, we’re having to do what we think will be most successful. Which is really looking for those opportunities of favorable ground to fight the fire, which is kind of right off the fire’s edge, indirect assault,” he says.

Two hundred and twelve personnel are assigned to the fire, including six ground crews, six helicopters and a dozer.

Crews are using heavy equipment to extend fire lines south out of Rattlesnake Creek, and build a new line in the Wisherd Ridge area. Fuel reduction is also taking place along access roads and hand lines.

Firefighters are preparing for winds expected to sweep through the area this afternoon. Thunderstorms are also expected to hit the Rattlesnake tonight. No rain is expected over the fire.

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