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

Montana Wildfire Update For June 17, 2021

Montana Wildfire News

Crooked Creek Fire

06/17/21, 5:03 p.m.

The Crooked Creek Fire in south central Montana has expanded to 5,100 acres and remains uncontained. The fire is located on lands managed by the Custer Gallatin National Forest, 25 miles east of Bridger in the Pryor Mountains near the southern border of the Crow reservation.

The Carbon County Sheriff’s Office has issued a pre-evacuation warning for residents in the Sage Creek area.

Fire Information Officer Al Nash says the fire is showing extreme behavior with crowning, wind-driven runs and spotting. The fire is expected to grow to the north due to prevailing winds.

Nash says the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a temporary flight restriction over the Crooked Creek Fire area to provide a safe environment so firefighting aircraft may operate in the area. 

Crews will be working Thursday to protect power lines and a wind farm, as well as some natural attractions. 

Both the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have issued closure orders for the Crooked Creek Fire area in the northeast section of the Custer National Forest Beartooth Ranger District.

The BLM has implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions on BLM-managed lands in Carbon County, Montana.

Deep Creek Fire

06/17/21, 9:10 p.m.

A colony of Hutterites has rejected a recommendation to evacuate from the Deep Creek Fire southeast of Helena. The fire grew slightly to more than 4,600 acres on Thursday, but a spokesperson says it’s relatively stable.

Meagher County Sheriff Jon Lopp says the 130-odd residents of the Springdale Colony felt they weren’t in danger when law enforcement tried to evacuate them earlier this week, but that they might leave if things get dire.

He says the Deep Creek Fire burning between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs was about two miles from the colony as of Thursday afternoon.

Lopp says colony residents have a constitutional right to stay put, but he says they were also told fire commanders wouldn’t send additional resources to the area.

“We’re not going to put our first responders in danger for people that don’t have any regard for their own wellbeing, I guess is the best way to put it,” Lopp says.

A resident confirmed that Springdale is still occupied during a phone call, but wasn’t authorized to provide further details.

Hutterites are a faith-based people who live and work in colonies across the western U.S. and Canada.

Lopp says the Springdale Colony has fire engines in case the Deep Creek Fire gets closer. He says residents were concerned about evacuating and leaving livestock behind.

“They have a large hog operation. So that would take quite an effort to get the hogs out,” Lopp says.

Fire spokesperson Margie Ferrucci says an evacuation order from the Grassy Mountain subdivision remains in place, though residents have been able to return for belongings and to salvage refrigerated food amid power outages.

Ferrucci says the Highway 12 closure has been lifted. People are still advised to avoid the area because the fire is flanking both sides of the road.

With a warming trend expected through the work week, fire crews are looking forward to a potential cold front and light rain this weekend.

A 9 p.m. press release from the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest announced new closures for recreation areas and trails in the area of the fire.

"In response to the Deep Creek Canyon Fire, an area closure encompassing many developed recreational sites, roads and trails outside Townsend is in now effect.

“We wanted to ensure the safety of our communities and firefighters,” said Acting District Ranger Erin Fryer. “With the network of Forest Service managed trails and roads in and around the fire, we wanted to ensure no one would be put at risk if the winds change.  This will also give firefighters the space to put all their efforts into containing the fire as soon as possible.”

Developed recreational site closures include:

    Deep Creek Picnic Area
    Skidway Campground
    Thompson Guard Station
    Gipsy Lake Campground
    Rillway Campground

See the area closure orders and map.

Area closures due to the Deep Creek Fire as of 9 p.m., June 17, 2021
Credit Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest
Area closures due to the Deep Creek Fire as of 9 p.m., June 17, 2021

Robertson Draw Fire

Update 11:22  a.m.

The Robertson Draw Fire burning 24,273 acres south of Red Lodge has been identified as human caused, according to the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office. The fire is 0% contained.

Sheriff Josh McQuillen says his office is investigating with the U.S. Forest Service. They’ve identified a suspect and been in contact, but that person is not in custody.

McQuillen also said at a community meeting Wednesday night that the fire has burned eight major structures and 13 outbuildings. He says the Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue checked in on 570 homes and made contact with nearly 250 people on Tuesday as the fire exploded in size and forced evacuations for an area spanning south of Highway 308 from Red Lodge to Highway 72 down to the Wyoming border.

An evacuation order remains in place for North and South Grove Creek, Gold Creek, Ruby Creek and Robertson Draw east to Highway 72. Evacuation orders for all other areas lifted Wednesday night, but residents are advised to be vigilant.

All the Custer Gallatin National Forest System lands south of Point of Rocks in the Rock Creek drainage are closed under a Forest Closure Order. This includes trailheads, campgrounds, dispersed camping areas, and the USDA Forest Service Recreation Residences in Corral Creek, Spring Creek, Snow Creek, and Sheep Creek. This is in addition to the Closure Area encompassing the Line Creek Plateau. The Beartooth Highway (US Hwy 212) remains open.

A morning update posted to InciWeb shows the fire has grown about 3,000 acres since Tuesday.

Ken Coffman, district ranger for the Beartooth Ranger District of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, said at Wednesday’s public meeting crews are making progress but cautioned bringing the fire under control will take time.

“We’re going to be living with this fire for at best several more weeks, if not for several more months, because of the size of the fire, the terrain and fuel that it’s in,” Coffman said. “It’s going to be a while.”

On Wednesday, moderated weather conditions allowed fire crews to work on the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern sides of the fire. Air tanker water and retardant drops were conducted along the northwest side of Mt. Maurice to check fire spread. Aircraft were also used on the south side to check fire spread. The fire remained active along portions of the northern edge and in the timbered areas south of Mt. Maurice.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team trained to oversee complex, long-term responses to wildland fires assumed command of the fire at 7 p.m. Wednesday. About 160 personnel are assigned to the fire, with more incoming. Firefighters continue to focus their efforts on structure protection and are now turning their attention to building containment lines.

A post to InciWeb lays out Thursday’s planned actions: “Fire crews will work along the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern sides of the fire to continue to tie in fire lines where needed, mop up pockets of heat and any areas of fire located around private structures. On the south side of the fire crews will continue to look for opportunities to build fire line. On the northwest side of the fire near Mt. Maurice the Division Supervisor and operations personnel will begin scouting the fire area and develop a strategy for suppression. A structure protection group has been organized and will be working on structure assessments and planning. Additional fire crews have been ordered and will be arriving. Aerial resources will continue to drop water or retardant as needed based on fire activity.”

Red Lodge Fire Rescue Chief Tom Kuntz praised the mix of local teams that first responded to the fire Sunday. He said there was no way to get the fire out on the first or second day, and that the conditions he’s seeing are more akin to what’s normally seen in August, not June.

“The majority of the fire looks incredible and I'm really proud of the team that has worked on this and what they're doing to hand off to this Type 2 team to have them hopefully finish it up for us.”

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