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

Montana Wildfire Update for June 22, 2021

Montana Wildfire News

Updated 5 p.m.

Robertson Draw Fire

Crews had contained more than half of the 30,000 acre Robertson Draw Fire south of Red Lodge as of Tuesday morning.

In an update posted to Facebook, the Custer Gallatin National Forest says hot, dry weather is stoking fire activity in the south and north Grove Creek drainages. Authorities caution drivers in the Red Lodge area to be aware of smoke.

Firefighting crews are scooping water in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir in Wyoming instead of the Cooney Reservoir, which is now open to camping and day use.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest wrote on Tuesday, “Yesterday, on the #RobertsonDrawFire crews burned out a section on the southwest corner of the fire perimeter. They tied the main fire into an existing trail, handline, and old burn scar to assist in securing the fire edge. The burnout operation was successfully done with favorable weather. Today, the unburned vegetation in the interior of the fire is burning. The hot, dry weather is increasing this process and smoke will be visible from several areas.”

An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing. The Carbon County Attorney said Tuesday afternoon he’s reviewing reports on a suspect for potential charges. He said he’d have more to share on Wednesday.

Just over 350 personnel are tackling the fire according to the Northern Rockies Coordination Center, and $4.3 million has been spent on firefighting efforts. 

InciWeb says the area south of Red Lodge along the east side of the Beartooth Highway remains under an evacuation warning. 

The Crooked Creek fire about 30 miles east of Bridger is zero percent contained, according to InciWeb, and firefighters are working on installing containment lines. Crews are also planning to map the fire using drones, according to a Custer Gallatin National Forest Facebook post.

Deep Creek Fire

Containment of the 4,600-acre Deep Creek Canyon Fire southeast of Helena held steady at 75% as of Tuesday morning.

Deep Creek Fire, Tuesday, June 22, 2021.
Credit U.S. Forest Service
Deep Creek Fire, Tuesday, June 22, 2021.

Firefighters are digging lines along the fire’s northeast perimeter to prevent growth, while reinforcing lines and searching for hot spots along the northwest and southern sections of the fire.

Crews are also cutting down snags near Highway 12 and power lines to protect critical infrastructure, according to a news release.

More than 400 people are on the fire, which has cost $4 million to fight so far, the release says.

This week will bring warmer, windier weather with potential thunderstorms Wednesday, according to InciWeb.

Officials are trying to fully contain the Deep Creek Canyon Fire by July 1. Vigilante Electric Cooperative hopes to return power to the area by Thursday, says the general manager.

National Fire Preparedness

The National Interagency Fire Center has raised the National Preparedness to its second highest position.

The preparedness scale ranges from 1 to 5. It’s now at Level 4. That means, among other things, that competition is growing for firefighting resources between geographic areas.

NIFC says it’s been nine years since the National Preparedness Level was bumped to a four in June.

The agency says 47 large, active fires have burned almost 520-thousand acres across the country. 

The National Weather Service says scattered thunderstorms might spread into central Idaho and southwest Montana overnight. Some storms could be dry with lightning and gusty winds.

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Explore what wildfire means for the West, our planet and our way of life, with Fireline, a six-part series from Montana Public Radio and the University Of Montana College of Business.