Highway 37 Fire, Kootenai National Forest - Update 5:22 p.m. July 23, 2018
The Highway 37 Fire burning near Libby’s asbestos superfund site is 10 percent contained as of Monday afternoon. The 50-acre blaze did not grow much over the weekend. A team of 10 specially trained firefighters, a decontamination crew, a hotshot team and two engine crews made progress digging containment line around the fire’s perimeter, aided by helicopter dousing hot spots.
The Highway 37 Fire is burning about a mile and a half away from the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine in a section of forest contaminated with asbestos fibers. The general public is not at risk to exposure at this time.
Fire spokesperson Dellora Gauger says it was likely the result of a discarded lit cigarette.
Gauger says, "Montanans and our visitors from wherever need to know this is not the place to do that. It just takes one spark and you get something like this or worse."
Crews are expecting hotter, drier and windier weather through Wednesday evening, when there’s a potential for dry lightning.
Fire danger remains “very high” on the Kootenai National Forest, and “high” for the nearby Flathead area and Flathead National Forest.
Wawa Fire, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge - Update 5:22 p.m. July 23, 2018
A wildfire discovered Friday afternoon is burning more than 2,000 acres near critical sage grouse habitat in the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge about 40 miles southeast of Zortman.
"This morning the fire was 1800 acres and by the end of the day it could possibly be 2500 to 3000 acres," said Mike Granger, fire management officer for the refuge.
Granger said the fire’s growing because crews on the scene ignited a “burnout,” or controlled fire meant to blaze through fuels surrounding the wildfire and create a sort of box that can contain the fire and keep it away from sensitive habitat.
"And as long as everything stays within that box everything is good," said Granger.
The sage grouse is listed as a species of concern, and the massive sage-covered fields where it lives are particularly vulnerable to wildfire. If burnt, the sage could take 50-100 years to return.
"When you have a species that is very dependent upon a particular forage and that goes away, you have a very caustic kind of a situation where they can no longer survive in those habitats, and so that’s what’s happening all across the west," said Granger.
Granger estimates that the fire’s already burnt upwards of two hundred acres of sage, but he hopes the burnout will prevent further damage to the delicate ecosystem.
More than 70 people are fighting the lightning-caused Wawa fire on the refuge, along with two helicopters and multiple engines.
Reynolds Lake Fire, Bitterroot National Forest - Update 5:22 p.m. July 23, 2018
The lightning-caused Reynolds Lake Fire about 35 miles southwest of Darby did not grow over the weekend, and crews built line around roughly 90 percent of it. As of Monday afternoon the fire is 25 percent contained.
The Reynolds Lake fire continues to burn 1,068 acres on the border of the Bitterroot and Salmon-Challis National Forests.
About 240 personnel, six engines and four helicopters are on the scene. Fire danger is currently “high” in the Bitterroot National Forest.
Wawa Fire, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge
A wildfire is burning more than 2,000 acres near critical sage grouse habitat in the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge about 40 miles southeast of Zortman.
The lightning-caused Wawa fire was discovered on Friday afternoon.
Crews on the scene ignited a “burnout,” or controlled fire meant to blaze through fuels surrounding the wildfire and limit its growth at 8:30am Monday morning. Due to the burnout, the fire is expected to grow by more than 1,000 acres by the end of the day.
Mike Granger, fire management officer for the refuge, said more than 70 personnel are on the fire, along with two helicopters and multiple engines.
Highway 37 Fire, Kootenai National Forest
An ongoing investigation has determined that the Highway 37 Fire was likely human caused by discarded smoking material.
The 51-acre fire a few miles north of Libby was spotted last Thursday night and is burning within 1.5 miles of the old W.R. Grace vermiculite mine, which poses unusual challenges for firefighters working in the asbestos-contaminated forest.
A Type 3 Incident Command Team was assigned to the fire over the weekend. A team of 10 specially trained firefighters wearing respirators are working to keep the fire away from the old mine, which is considered ground zero for asbestos contamination at the Libby Superfund Site. They’re joined by a decontamination team that hoses them down after eight-hour shifts, a hot shot crew and two other firefighting crews. The general public is not as risk to asbestos fiber exposure at this time.
Fire growth was minimal over the weekend. Crews spent Saturday digging a dozer line across the top of the fire’s perimeter and down its flanks to reach the highway. Air equipment like helicopters remain available for suppression efforts.
The fire is about 10 percent contained as of Monday afternoon. Fire danger remains “Very High” on the Kootenai National Forest.
Reynolds Lake Fire, Bitterroot National Forest
The Reynolds Lake Fire was 25 percent contained as of Monday afternoon.
The 1,068-acre blaze held in size Saturday and crews made progress over the weekend building hand line around roughly 90 percent of the fire’s perimeter. Helicopters dropped water but not retardant Sunday as ground crews turned their attention to the last remaining unsecured section of the blaze on its far eastern edge. About 240 personnel are assigned to the fire.
Forest Road #044 remains closed. Fire danger remains “High” on the Bitterroot National Forest.