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

Fire Season’s Not Done Yet. Haystack Fire Grows To 10,000 Acres

A 1,900 acre wildfire creeping and smoldering south of Helena since late July exploded into a 10,000 acre incident this weekend.

Pushed by both exceptionally warm, dry fire conditions and wind gusts approaching 60 miles per hour, the Haystack fire led to several pre-evacuation notices near Boulder Saturday afternoon.

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest spokesperson Cat McRae says, “There was an instance in which that fire traveled a mile in 40 minutes.”

The Jefferson County Sheriff's office has issued a pre-evacuation notice for the following areas. Resident in these areas should be prepared to evacuate soon:

  • South of the Boulder River and Cattle Drive west of Highway 69
  • North of and including Boulder Hot Springs
  • Silver Bell Road area

The pre-evacuation status for the Depot Hill/Boomerang Gulch area was lifted Sunday afternoon.
Despite Monday’s cooler temperatures and scattered showers, McRae says another round of windy, critical fire conditions are possible by week’s end.

“The rationale was that it’s much better to leave them at a state of warning rather than to pull them out and then immediately put them back in if that ends up being the case.”

A Type II incident management team, the second-most robust type of interagency firefighting force, will take management of the Haystack Fire later this week.

McRae describes the Haystack Fire as a late fourth-quarter push at a time when fire season is usually winding down. She says exhausted firefighters are now frequently responding to reports of abandoned campfires.

“Those human-caused fires, they pull away resources and they’re the one thing that we can change. We can’t change the lightning-strike-caused fires, but we can cumulatively and as a team do something about those human-caused fires.”

McRae says 26 wildfires on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest have been human-caused this year and 26 have been lightning starts.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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