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

Voices from Dayton as the Elmo Fire nears

 Smoke fills the air in Dayton as the Elmo Fire burns nearby. On Monday, August 1, 2022 evacuations were ordered for Lake Mary Ronan Road, Black Lake Road, and the surrounding areas, near Dayton.
Aaron Bolton
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Smoke fills the air in Dayton as the Elmo Fire burns nearby. On Monday, August 1, 2022 evacuations were ordered for Lake Mary Ronan Road, Black Lake Road, and the surrounding areas, near Dayton.

Gusting winds continue to fan the Elmo Fire burning more than 16,000 acres west of Flathead Lake.

Families are preparing to evacuate in Dayton, if the fire grows further to the northeast.

In the small town of Dayton along the western shore of Flathead Lake nearby residents ordered to evacuate from the Elmo Fire gathered along the town’s gravel roads Monday evening planning what to do next.

Gusting winds and temperatures close to 100 degrees fanned the fire to more than 16,000 acres, or 25 square miles.

With Red Flag Warnings in place signaling the possibility for more fire spread, new evacuations were announced for Lake Mary Ronan Road, Black Lake Road, and the surrounding areas. The Red Cross set up evacuation centers at Polson High School and Somers Middle School.

Colt Palmer said the fire was about a mile from his house on Lake Mary Ronan when he left.

“My in-laws, it was probably 600, 700 yards. Right when we got out of there, a little engine showed up. Hopefully they can keep it knocked down,” Palmer said.

Just around the corner, Diana Scheffield and Rich Laidlaw are loading irreplaceable possessions into their van. Laidlaw says the situation seemed fine until the winds shifted to the east and the fire quickly came over the ridgeline just west of town.

“Definitely saw that after work,” Laidlaw said. “I heard propane tanks blowing, a couple structures I know that are gone that are on that hillside.”

At the Chuck Wagon Bar & Grill, co-owner Kathy Wilson says much of her staff had to leave work to evacuate. The restaurant also ran out of water, forcing her to close.

“We just decided to wait and see if we had to be evacuated ourselves because we were put on notice,” Kathy said.

She says the RV she lives in with her husband is ready to go because she and others here fear the fire could soon cross Highway 93 and burn into their little town along the shores of Flathead Lake.

Updates on the Elmo Fire can be found here: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/8289/

Fireline probes the causes and consequences of the increasingly devastating wildfires burning in the U.S. It taps into the experience of firefighters, tribal land managers, climate scientists and more to understand how we got here and where we're going.

Aaron Bolton is Montana Public Radio's Flathead Valley reporter.