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

450 Homes Under Evacuation Orders Due To Fire Near Red Lodge

A photo of the Robertson Draw Fire posted the morning of June 16, 2021.
Inciweb
A photo of the Robertson Draw Fire posted the morning of June 16, 2021.

06/16/21, 5:15 p.m.

The Robertson Draw Fire burning south of Red Lodge saw significant growth yesterday and is now estimated at about 21,000 acres.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency Wednesday morning determined the fire threatens enough destruction to constitute a major disaster and authorized federal funds to reimburse up to 75% of the state’s eligible firefighting costs.

A request for the funds said the Robertson Draw Fire was threatening 450 homes that fall under an evacuation order, along with 312 buildings and other equipment in the area.

The evacuation order stretches south of Highway 308 from Red Lodge to Highway 72, and west of Highway 72 to the Wyoming border, excluding the towns of Bearcreek and Belfry.

Fire information officer Billy Chapman this afternoon said he can’t confirm any losses or damages.

Watching from Red Lodge, Chapman says the fire burned extremely actively Tuesday driven by very windy, changing conditions and embers igniting new spot fires.

“It was pretty scary. Mt Maurice is very visible from downtown. I'm sure a lot of people have seen the pictures but it was a really intense fire. Really high flames, absolutely torching the trees. It was intense for a few minutes.”

Extreme fire behavior yesterday made fighting the fire safely on the ground nearly impossible. Chapman says air resources were grounded for a few hours yesterday due to high winds, preventing retardant and water drops.

A morning update Wednesday said the fire continues to actively burn along the east side of Line Creek Plateau into sage and grass south of Bearcreek and Belfry and around Mount Maurice, south of Red Lodge.

On Wednesday cooler temperatures, higher relative humidity and significantly less wind have helped crews make progress placing dozer line and securing the fire’s edge.

“It's pushing itself back onto where it's already burned. I'm looking at Mt Maurice right now and it's definitely more typical fire behavior. It's burning back up the mountain. Last night it was making a big run down the mountain, which is unusual, so this is good to see.”

Wednesday the fire actively burned to the southeast and in an interior bowl on the south side of Mt. Maurice.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team was brought in Wednesday morning to assume command of the Robertson Draw Fire as additional resources arrive, including air tankers, hand crews and engines.

Fire managers will hold a public meeting tonight at 7 at the Red Lodge High School Gym. The meeting will also be livestreamed on the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s Facebook page.

A shelter for evacuees is available at the Red Lodge Community Church at 308 South Broadway Avenue. The Red Cross has set up another shelter at the Red Lodge Veteran Memorial Civic Center at 215 14th St. West.

The Beartooth Humane Alliance is offering temporary shelter for cats, dogs, horses and other pets.

Chapman says fire crews appreciate that people have generously donated food and water, and urges those seeking to give those kinds of items to contact the Red Cross.

“Even if they don’t need any for this incident, they can refill their banks, because I think they’re going to have a very busy summer and they’re going to need it.”

The cause of the Robertson Draw Fire is under investigation.

Evacuations remain in effect for: 

- Area south of Highway 308 from Red Lodge to Highway 72, west of Highway 72 to the Wyoming border. Excluding the towns of Bearcreek and Belfry.

- The area east of Highway 212 from Meeteetse Trail Road to Westminster Spires Church Camp.

- USDA Forest Service Recreation Residences in Corral Creek, Spring Creek, Snow Creek, and Sheep Creek.

- All campgrounds, dispersed camping and trailheads from the Lake Fork north to Red Lodge including the dispersed camping area just west of the Lake Fork Road.

- Evacuation Warning: Town of Bearcreek

Closures: 

An area closure is in place for the area south of Highway 212, east to the area along the Beartooth Front and south to the Wyoming border. This does not include the campgrounds and homes along East Side Road. Line Creek Road is closed in Wyoming. Roads closed to the public – local access only allowed: Meeteetse Trail Road, Grove Creek Road, Robertson Draw Road, Line Creek Road in Wyoming. Highway 308 is open to the public at this time.

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Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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