'Asbestos forest' burns; Fire prevention work begins around Butte's water supply
Tub Gulch Fire burns within Libby's asbestos forest
Montana Public Radio | By Aaron Bolton
The Tub Gulch Fire is burning within Libby’s ‘asbestos forest’ near the defunct vermiculite mine. Asbestos from the mine has contaminated the landscape and trees in the area.
The Kootenai National Forest said the fire is currently three acres in size and was met with an aggressive response Monday.
The Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program is collecting daily air samples to monitor for asbestos spreading through the fire’s smoke. However, samples must be analyzed by a certified lab and could take a few days to receive results.
U.S. Forest Service crews start emergency Basin Creek fire prevention work
Montana Public Radio | By John Hooks
Forest Service crews began emergency fire prevention work this week in the area around Butte’s largest municipal water supply. Deadfall from trees killed by a pine beetle outbreak pose an extreme wildfire risk.
Forest services crews in hard hats and protective gear chop up fallen trees and undergrowth in the area around the Basin Creek reservoir, stacking them into small piles to be burned come winter.
Butte District Ranger Tim Lahey said a pine beetle outbreak in the early 2000s turned the forests into a literal tinder box that threatens local water supply.
“You know these are trees that have been dead for 10, 15 years. Very dry,” Lahey said.
The reservoir provides 60% of Butte’s drinking water. A large wildfire could fill it with ash and sediment, requiring the treatment plant on site to shut down for up to a decade.
Work to clear up the deadfall had been slow going until a visit from the head of the service earlier this summer kick-started an emergency order, allowing crews to start work immediately.
Jim Keenan, water plant superintendent for Butte-Silver Bow, breathed a sigh of relief when he heard work was starting.
“When Tim called and said he was signing the decision I got goosebumps on my arms, I was so excited. So it was a big day,” Keenan said.
The first part of the project is construction of a fuel brake line, which will allow firefighters better access to the remote area if a fire does break out. Further tree thinning and salvage will continue in stages for the next three to five years.
Flathead County Commission enacts an emergency declaration as wildfires burn in NW Montana
Montana Public Radio | By Edward F. O'Brien
The Flathead County Commission enacted an emergency declaration Tuesday as multiple wildfires continue burning in northwest Montana.
The declaration authorizes officials to, if necessary, free up money from the county’s disaster and emergency fund.
Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino warns that while the situation is under control right now, that could change on a moment’s notice.
Officials bumped up the county’s fire danger level to ‘extreme’ this week as hot and dry conditions continue with little relief in sight.
Extreme fire danger means dry grasses and needles will ignite easily, fires will spread rapidly and may be difficult to control.
Fire officials with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes have similarly moved to ‘extreme’ fire danger.
Stage 2 fire restrictions have also been implemented on the Flathead Indian Reservation. That means fires and campfires are prohibited. Smoking is restricted outside of developed recreation sites and enclosed vehicles. Operating chainsaws and other internal combustion engines are prohibited from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.