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

Montana Wildfire Update For June 16, 2021

Montana Wildfire News

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

Robertson Draw Fire:

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

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.

Update 06/16/21, 5 p.m.

Deep Creek Canyon Fire

More crews are arriving at the 2,000-acre Deep Creek Fire southeast of Helena. Officials are also setting up a closure zone to keep people away from the blaze.

More than 160 people are now fighting the fire between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs, says U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Kathy Bushnell. That’s more than double the previous reported figure.

To give crews room to work, Bushnell says officials are setting up a closure area from the Skidway Campground near Highway 12 north to the Gipsy Lake area near the Thompson Guard Station.

After severe fire conditions Tuesday, Bushnell says Wednesday’s milder weather aided crews. She says the fire’s spread through national forest land in the south Big Belt Mountains still presents challenges, though.

"It’s in steep terrain and it’s very densely populated with trees and dead trees."

Bushnell says structures were lost to the fire, though she didn’t have further details.

A map of the Deep Creek Canyon Fire released on the morning of June 16, 2021.
Credit Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest
A map of the Deep Creek Canyon Fire released on the morning of June 16, 2021.

The Deep Creek Fire remains completely uncontained after a Tuesday spot fire allowed it to jump Highway 12, which remains closed between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs.

A helicopter from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation also crash landed near the fire Tuesday afternoon, amid high winds.

DNRC spokesperson Paige Cohn says all five crew members escaped the wreckage safely. She says DNRC is reviewing the accident’s cause and whether the chopper is a total loss. 

Cohn says the crash shouldn’t affect DNRC’s firefighting capacity.

"We believe that we’re still capable of initial attack and suppressing fires across the state."

A Type 1 Incident Management Team reserved for complex fires is expected to take control of the scene at Deep Creek Canyon on Thursday.

Evacuations remain in effect at the Grassy Mountain subdivision and Springdale Colony of Hutterites.

Update 06/16/21, 4:21 p.m.

Crooked Creek Fire

The Crooked Creek Fire is , burning 45-hundred acres east of Bridger in the Pryor Mountains. The fire is located along the Carbon County and Big Horn County border, adjacent to the Crow Reservation.

The Carbon County Sheriff’s Department has issued a pre-evacuation notice for the Sage Creek area for residents to be ready to go if needed. The Crooked Creek area in the northeast section of the Custer Gallatin National Forest Beartooth Ranger District has closed.

Three air tankers and a Bureau of Land Management wildland energy crew are working on the Crooked Creek Fire. The fire was first reported Tuesday evening. 

Lone Tree Fire

BLM crews are working to contain two separate wildfires burning in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

Three BLM engines and a forest service engine are on the scene of the 700 acre Lone Tree Fire, located 25 miles northeast of Winifred in the Ervin Ridge Wilderness Study area north of the Missouri River. Single engine air tankers and a helicopter have been ordered.

Sunshine Fire

Crews have contained the 35 acre Sunshine Fire burning in the Woodhawk Wilderness Study area south of the Missouri River. Engines from the BLM, US Fish and Wildlife Service and local fire departments along with a BLM helicopter helped to contain the fire.

Cook Creek Fire

Firefighters have contained the 350 acre Cook Creek Fire, 16 miles southwest of Ashland on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. One structure is threatened. The Northern Rockies Coordination Center reports retardant delivered to the fire made a huge impact on the suppression efforts.

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