Updated 10:45 p.m. July 26, 2019.
The Lewis and Clark County Sheriffs Office has ordered evacuations near Helena due to growing danger from the North Hills Fire. Residents near the intersection of Snowdrift and Ferry, east to Hauser Dam Road are ordered to evacuate the area.
The evacuation order includes the following areas: Noble Lane, Snowdrift Road, Big build drive down to 6445 W. Haven Rd., Mountain Meadow road, Beginning at 6425 Timber Trail and north, Countryside Road, Black Sandy loop, Church Hill Lane.
According to the Helena Indepent Record, emergency shelter is available at Helena First Assembly of God Church, 2210 Dodge Ave.
The Independent Record also reports that a public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at Warren Elementary School, 2690 York Road. An information line is available by calling 406-447-1605.
Updated 5:45 p.m. July 26, 2019.
Wildfire season has arrived in Montana as fires continue to grow and hot weather and gusty winds increase fire danger in parts of the state. Firefighters are attacking a fire discovered this afternoon in Helena’s North Hills, and an ongoing fire near the ghost town of Bannack faces challenges from military ordnance and dry conditions.
The North Hills Fire is burning on an estimated 24 acres of BLM land just north of Helena. County communication coordinator Jeni Garcin says the public is not in immediate danger.
"At this point, there isn’t any structures threatened. There are no evacuations at this time. They are just asking that people avoid Snowdrift Road if possible, just so crews have access in and out of there."
The fire’s cause and timing are still unclear, according to Garcin.
The Bannack Fire one mile south of Bannack ghost town in Beaverhead county remains at 151 acres.
Firefighters encountered a new obstacle last night, according to DNRC Fire Management Officer Don Copple.
“We’ve located some unexploded ordnance up there, we don’t know when it’s from or anything like that, but some military ordnance that’s on the hillside.”
One piece of ordnance was located last night. The discovery of a second one this afternoon prompted officials to pull firefighters from that line until the ordnance is identified.
Copple says there’s still a good forecast for the Bannack Fire, with firefighters working hard to put out the spot fires catching on the area’s dry ground. The fire is 35% contained, and Bannack State Park is still open.
The Moss Ranch Fire on the Flathead Indian Reservation has grown to 450 acres in a matter of days. Firefighters are in the middle of a large controlled burn in an effort to contain the fire.
C.T. Camel is the prevention specialist with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Division of Fire. He says that the burnout will wrap up sometime this evening, and when it does, the fire’s perimeter will have expanded to more than 5,600 acres.
"The interior stuff will continue to burn for a week or so, but it’ll be controlled up to the grass."
He says one of the objectives of the burnout was to move the fire off of steep rocky areas onto flat grasslands where firefighters can move around safely.
The fire is burning on tribal trust lands typically used for cattle grazing. Camel says no structures or people are endangered.
There are 160 people helping to fight the fire, including three agencies: the CSKT tribal fire department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Forest Service.
As of 1 p.m. Friday, the fire it was 10% contained.
Once the burnout finishes tonight, Camel says crews will start to close-in on the fire and shrink its perimeter.
The incident commander on the Beeskove Fire burning about six miles north of Missoula says he’s bracing for some weather-related challenges this weekend.
Dave Williams is in charge of the 95 people fighting the fire that’s burning about 35 acres in the Lolo National Forest up Rattlesnake Creek.
"We’re expecting to potentially see some pretty high winds tomorrow with that cold front passage. If we can keep the fire parked relatively close to where it’s at now, that’ll buy us some more time to continue looking at how to get around it. If those winds take this fire outside it’s current perimeter, it’s going to get a lot more challenging to figure out how we’re going to get around it."
Williams says he doesn’t think there’s a "significant concern" for homes in the upper Rattlesnake area, but that that could change rapidly.
Two more Hotshot crews are expected to arrive on the fire this weekend. Today, three helicopters were dropping water on it, and more have been ordered.
The fire stands at zero percent contained. The Lolo National Forest advises watching its Facebook page for updates this weekend.
Hot, dry, windy weather and dangerous fire conditions are expected tomorrow in parts of north and central Montana.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for Saturday morning through 9 p.m. Saturday night for north-central and central Montana. Winds out of the west are expected to be 10 to 20 miles an hour, with gusts up to 35 miles an hour. Dry thunderstorms are possible and the gusty winds will make it difficult to contain any new fire starts.
Three counties in the region still have current fire restrictions. Cascade County has banned open burning at least through early next week. And Jefferson and Lewis and Clark counties have banned debris burning until further notice.
And Wildland Fire Management on the Crow Reservation says fire danger has risen to "very high" around the Little Big Horn Battlefield, Soda Springs and even the grass atop the Pryor Mountains.
Fire danger in the Bitterroot and Lolo national forests is rated "high," meaning fires will start from most causes and spread quickly.
The fire season is starting later this summer compared to recent years because of cooler temperatures and more moisture in July, according to a Montana DNRC official.
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