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

Montana Wildfire Update For August 18, 2020

Montana Wildfire News

Flathead County is the latest addition to the rapidly growing list of places where the fire danger rating has ramped up to ‘Very High’. Flathead area fire managers made that announcement Tuesday. The danger rating moves to very high when fires start easily, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity.

The danger rating is elevated for the Flathead National Forest, Glacier National Park, the DNRC Swan Unit, Stillwater Unit, and Kalispell Unit, and other local state lands.

Andy Huntsberger, Fire Management Officer for the Flathead National Forest’s Hungry Horse District says his team has responded to multiple escaped campfires in the past two weeks.

Meanwhile the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Division of Fire issued a press release this week asking the public to watch for suspected arsonists. The DoF reports “a number of suspicious starts in the last couple of weeks. The latest occurring last weekend along the Jocko Road east of Arlee.” The Flathead Indian Reservation is currently in Very High Fire Danger.

The Bear Creek Fire burning near Lemhi, Idaho has now consumed over 7,400 acres and is exhibiting extreme fire behavior. The lightning-caused fire is burning in timber and heavy fuels and is reported as 10 percent contained. Those fuels are drying out with the hot temperatures and low relative humidity.

A Fire Weather Watch is in effect until midnight Tuesday for lightning and gusty winds up to 30 mph from the north. Temperatures are expected to be in the low to mid-80s. With thunderstorms, shifting winds from the north could reach 25-30 mph.

Active fire behavior is expected in the interior fuels on the east and north ends of the fire. Crews in the north will continue to hold the line and mop-up from yesterday’s completed burnout operation, cleaning up and addressing an area of unburned heavy fuel interior to the line. To the west, crews will work to connect line from the 515 road to the Continental Divide, continuing with the multi-day project, with support from heavy equipment. To the south, crews will continue to improve the fuel break to the Continental Divide.

Via inciweb: The lightning-caused Garnet Fire 34 miles east of Polson began August 15. It's burning mid to upper slope on the northeast aspect of the ridge that separates the Little Salmon and Big Salmon drainages, approximately 4 miles up drainage from the South Fork of the Flathead River on the west side of Garnet Creek. Current fire behavior is classified as creeping, mainly upslope to the south; currently lateral movement and backing downslope to the Little Salmon Creek bottom is limited. Single tree torching has been observed.

As of August 17, the eastern flank of the fire is the most active. The fire is spreading further into the Garnet Creek drainage and is anticipated to spot across the creek and establish on the western aspect of the slope.

Point protection plans are in process as the fire is anticipated to spread toward the Salmon Forks Administrative Site, located approximately four miles east of the current fire location. A crew has been established at the cabin to implement structure protection plans if necessary. Contacts are being made with individuals recreating in the area of the Little Salmon trails system and closure orders are posted.

Closures are in place for all lands contained within the following perimeter:  Starting at the Swan divide at Cooney Peak follow a line to Brownie point and then on to Garnet peak. From Garnet peak follow the ridge east to Salmon Point. Continue to follow this ridge to the east to the junction of Little Salmon trail #29 and the West side South fork trail #263. From this junction follow the ridge to the Northwest to Snow Peak. From Snow Peak follow a line to Oreamnos Peak. From Oreamnos Peak follow a line to a spot where Cannon creek trail #493 connects to the Swan divide. From this junction follow the Swan Divide south to Cooney Peak.

All trails contained within the perimeter described above:

    Palisade Creek Trail #25 in its entirety
    Recluse Lake Trail #368  in its entirety
    Brownie Creek Trail #451 in its entirety
    Salmon Point Trail #111 in its entirety
    Little Salmon Creek Trail #29 from its Junction with West side South fork trail #263 to Smith Creek Pass

Via inciweb: The 70 acre Wood Lake Fire burning 25 miles west of Augusta was reported August 17 with an estimated size of 3 acres. By 6 p.m. the same day its growth was estimated at 50 acres with active fire behavior and spotting a quarter of a mile ahead of the fire front.

The fire is in steep, rugged terrain on the upper third of a north-facing slope. The Rocky Mountain Ranger District's (RMRD) initial response consisted of a 6-person district fire module and a 4-person engine module. The Lewis and Clark Interagency Hotshots were on-scene by 2 p.m., supported by two type 1 (heavy) helicopters for water drops, and one type 2 (medium) for transportation needs. Additionally, a very large air tanker delivered one load of retardant. 

Current closures associated with this fire are Wood Lake, Wood Lake campground, Wood Lake Picnic area, and the Petty-Crown Trail Head and trail loop.

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