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

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 6, 2019

Updated 3:50 p.m., August 6, 2019

The Snow Creek Fire is about 20 miles northeast of Condon in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area with spotting across the South Fork of the Flathead River.

The lightning-caused fire was called in August 2 at 10 p.m. and is burning 475 acres.

Nine additional personnel and equipment were inserted via air support to the Black Bear Administrative site Monday afternoon. Bucket drops were also conducted to help slow the spread of the fire.

Expected fire potential for today is "continued growth to the north toward the Black Bear Administrative site on both east and west sides of the South Fork of the Flathead River, east up Helen Creek, and south down the river."

Trail closures are still being determined

Updated 2:30 p.m.

The Lolo National Forest reported two new fires this afternoon:

The West Fork Lolo 2 fire is located one mile southwest of Lolo Hot Springs, half-a-mile west of Lee Creek Campground, across Highway 12. It was caused by lightning and called in Monday at about 2:00 p.m. and is estimated at four acres.

Multiple aircraft and firefighters including, one 20-person hand crew responded in initial attack and immediately conducted suppression operations and water bucket drops.

Lee Creek Campground is temporarily closed for staging of firefighting equipment. Additional closures are forthcoming and will include long-term closure of Lee Creek Campground. No structures are threatened at this time.

The Wagon Mountain Fire is burning about 15 acres (varying with spot fires) approximately two miles northeast of the Lolo Pass Visitor Center. This lightning caused fire was reported about 2:30 p.m. Monday. Multiple aircraft responded immediately along with firefighters including two engines, one 20-person hand crew from the nearby Beeskove Fire and one 10-person hand crew from the Palouse Ranger District, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Another 20-person hand crew and an excavator arrived this morning to aid in suppression efforts, with more resources ordered and arriving. Today’s ground operations will be supported by bucket drops from two Type 1 helicopters.

The fire is burning in a previously logged area in new regeneration and also in mature spruce and mixed conifer. Due to complexity and fire behavior, a Type 3 Incident Commander is managing the fire. No evacuations are in effect at this time.

Over the weekend, firefighters responded to four additional wildfire starts; three on the Missoula Ranger District and one on the Ninemile Ranger District. Three of the starts were lightning caused, one was human-caused. All of these fires were .25 acres or less and due to quick response from firefighters, are now contained and controlled.

Updated 1:23 p.m.

Today’s update from managers of the Beeskove Fire says management is in the process of transitioning from a Type 3 incident management team to a type two team.

The main Rattlesnake Trail, trailhead and parking area will be closed for road work today, August 6 and reopen tomorrow.

On Monday, “increased fire behavior including individual tree torching was observed in the fire’s perimeter due to windy conditions and warm temperatures. Firefighters continued construction on indirect fireline by removing hazardous fuels and vegetation on the ground on the south and east sides of the fire. Efforts included fuel removal north of the West Riverside Fire perimeter, in the powerline corridor proximity and road systems to the northeast. Several fire resources were diverted to assist with initial attack response in the area.

“Today (Tuesday 08/06), firefighters will clear indirect lines from the 2011 West Riverside burn scar east across Johnson Creek and towards the powerline corridor utilizing road systems where possible. Heavy equipment will continue with removal of hazardous fuels in portions of the Gold Creek area and crews will assess the potential to plumb water with hoselays along additional sections of the southwestern indirect line. Fire resources remain available to respond to new fire starts not related to the fire as needed.

“Slightly above average temperatures, lower nighttime humidity recoveries and drier conditions are predicted through Thursday evening. Increased fire activity is anticipated such as isolated or group tree torching. Smoke may be visible from Missoula.

“In addition to the previous closure area, the following areas are now closed due to Beeskove Fire suppression operations:

· Woody Mountain – Johnson Gulch area is now closed to recreational use.

· Sheep Mountain Trailhead is now closed along with access to the trailhead via East Twin Creek Road FS 2117 and Upper Twin Creek Road FS 2119.

· Mineral Peak Lookout is closed as well as access to the lookout via the East Fork Rattlesnake Road FS 2112 and Mineral Peak Lookout Road 2120.

· Upper Twin Creek/Sheep Mountain Spur Trail #505 is now closed.

Many areas in the Rattlesnake remain open like Sawmill Gulch and the Rattlesnake Wilderness. Additionally, the Woods Gulch trailhead and the Marshall Canyon area remain open. For additional closure information, please contact the Missoula Ranger Station at (406) 329-3814.

Update 8:29 a.m.

The estimated size of the Horesefly Fire east of Lincoln has been reduced from 1,500 acres to 500 acres. See below for more information on this fire. 

Updated 8:03 a.m.

The 56 acre Nevada Creek Fire, located near the Black Diamond and Horsefly fires is now being called 10 percent contained. The team fighting it says: “A westerly wind flow will prevail through most of this week as high pressure remains anchored over the southwest U.S. and Great Basin. An initially limited amount of moisture will work north into the region, bringing a slight chance of thunderstorms Tuesday and Wednesday with a greater chance of thunderstorms Thursday and Friday. Cloud-cover will also increase as the week progresses, bringing some moderation to temperatures and humidity.”

Updated 7:32 a.m.

Fire managers project that the 36 acre Black Diamond Fire outside Lincoln will be engulfed by the new Horesefly Fire, but haven’t predicted when.

Monday night’s report on the Black Diamond said, “significant activity has decreased as mop-up efforts have been successful thus far. Potential for undetected spots remains as the terrain influenced winds produce flare-ups. Numerous spots near to fire perimeter have been slow to develop, but also difficult to locate in heavy dead and down material. Terrain influenced winds have contributed to spotting. Fire has spread primarily by burning in the beetle killed surface fuels and then by a torching/spotting cycle, Grasses and shrubs appear too green to carry fire by themselves but the heavy component of 1000-hr fuels is causing spread.”

Updated 6:42 a.m. 

A fast-growing wildfire reported yesterday afternoon resulted in evacuation orders for about 50 homes east of Lincoln.

Last night the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team said the Horsefly Fire was estimated at 1,500 acres, after being reported about 1:30 yesterday afternoon.

At about 5 PM yesterday Lewis and Clark County sheriff Leo Dutton issued evacuation orders for people in the Flesher Acres subdivision on Montana Highway 279. An evacuation shelter has been established in Helena at the First Assembly of God church. A public meeting on the Horsefly Fire is scheduled for 6:00 tonight at the Canyon Creek fire department.

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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