Montana Wildfire Update For June 23, 2021
Updated 6:45 p.m.
Fire crews continue creating fire break lines around the Robertson Draw and Crooked Creek Fires burning in the Custer Gallatin National Forest in south central Montana.
Fire officials report firefighters are bracing for thunderstorms and a cold front moving into the region later this week.
During the forest’s Wednesday morning briefing, fire behavior analyst Bruce Giersdorf addressed what the lightning, little rainfall and gusty winds the storms will bring.
“The outflow of gusty winds from that is really what our concern is for both fires as those thunder cells move through. We typically get some pretty good down-drafts from that, so we will be watching for that,” he said.
Giersdorf says this is the expected weather pattern Wednesday and Thursday. Friday will bring a more stable, dry weather with cooler temperatures.
InciWeb’s morning report says crews have contained more than half of the 30,000-acre Robertson Draw Fire south of Red Lodge. The fire is showing moderate fire activity today in the rougher terrain on the western side. The Northern Rockies Coordination Center estimates current firefighting costs $5 million.
The 5,400-acre Crooked Creek Fire east of Bridger in the Pryor Mountains is zero percent contained, and fire line construction and reinforcement continues.
The Custer Gallatin National Forest’s morning update reports firefighters are monitoring for any threat to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range southeast of the fire. The wild horse range is one of only a few designated wild horse and burro ranges in the US, and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. Currently the wild horse herd is not impacted by the fire.
The Carbon County Sheriff’s Office continues its pre-evacuation warning for the 25 primary residences in the Sage Creek area.
Updated at 5 p.m.
Robertson Draw Fire
Authorities investigating the Robertson Draw Fire south of Red Lodge have arrested a suspect and are charging him with arson.
55-year-old John Lightburn of Bridger faces charges of felony negligent arson, felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor negligent arson for his alleged involvement in starting the now-30,000 acre fire, according to documents Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon filed Wednesday.
Charging documents say a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer discovered Lightburn’s motorbike, burns and other evidence while investigating an area off-limits to motor vehicles the day the fire was reported June 13.
Nixon says Lightburn may have started the fire when he attempted to fix his motorbike’s flooded engine while riding in the Robertson Draw area.
He says Lightburn then created a spark that allegedly started the fire. According to charging documents, the flame spread through dry grasses and sage and grew rapidly in temperatures over 90 degrees and dry, windy conditions.
Lightburn is being held in the Gallatin County Detention Center, according to the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office, and is awaiting arraignment.
Deep Creek Fire
The 4,600-acre Deep Creek Canyon Fire southeast of Helena is 90 percent contained, according to firefighters’ latest estimates.
Crews are shifting resources to secure the fire’s northwest perimeter as others mop up remaining hot spots.
Vigilante Electricity Cooperative has repaired 52 power poles in the Grassy Mountain subdivision and expects to return power to the area Thursday after fixing six remaining poles, according to the utility’s Facebook page.
As of Tuesday, evacuation orders were lifted in the subdivision and all other impacted areas in Broadwater and Meagher counties.
The number of personnel on the fire dropped 15 percent from Tuesday to Wednesday. The blaze has cost $4.7 million to fight so far, according to a news release.
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.