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

Fire danger grows as high temperatures meet high winds

A Smokey Bear model stands next to a sign reading "fire danger very high today."
Josh Burnham

The Elmo Fire near the western shore of Flathead Lake grew to over 18,000 acres at last report. Officials on Wednesday said the fire has burned four homes and four outbuildings and has a high potential for reaching Lake Mary Ronan by this evening.

About 150 homes are now in the mandatory evacuation area. The Lake County Sheriff's office is asking residents who have not heeded the evacuation order for Lake Mary Ronan Road, to do so. 

Fire managers say they are pulling resources off the southern end of the fire to try to impede the blaze’s progress to the north in order to prevent it from threatening more homes.

The fire was listed at 16 percent contained Wednesday morning, but that may be outdated as that figure was based on a previous flight mapping the fire’s growth. Officials expect the fire to grow with persistent winds and hot temperatures in the forecast. They say that the containment percentage could drop along with that growth.

Fire managers will hold a community meeting at the Pow Wow Grounds in Elmo at 7 p.m. tonight.

High wind and fire danger warnings are in place for much of western and central Montana this afternoon.

The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest updated its fire danger to "Very High" Wednesday due to the hot and dry conditions.

According to the National Weather Service in Missoula, the combination of gusty winds and low humidity will create critical fire conditions in the region Thursday afternoon and evening.

Winds on Flathead Lake could cause waves 1 to 3 feet from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday. Boaters are advised to use extra caution since rough waves can overturn small crafts.

A fire this afternoon near Great Falls was quickly knocked down by fire crews. It was reported around 2 p.m., and by 4 p.m. Great Falls Fire Rescue posted on Facebook saying crews were beginning to mop up hotspots.

The fire sent up smoke near the Highland and Mount Olivet Cemeteries. No structures were damaged. Great Falls Fire Rescue requests people avoid the area as first responders continue to make sure the fire doesn’t spread.

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.

Corrected: August 4, 2022 at 11:17 AM MDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the area the Elmo Fire was expected to reach Wednesday evening. Fire officials say they expected the fire to reach Lake Mary Ronan.

Aaron Bolton is Montana Public Radio's Flathead Valley reporter.
Corin Cates-Carney is the news director at Montana Public Radio. He joined MTPR in 2015 and is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.