Updated and corrected: 5:35 p.m., 07/30/18
Twenty fires have flared up in the Kootenai National Forest, all caused by lightning from weekend storms.
Most of the fires are only burning a few acres, but the Davis Fire is now reported at 1,000 acres in size, according to a post on the Kootenai National Forest Facebook page. A fire spokesperson told MTPR Monday afternoon that the Davis fire was only 50 acres.
Kootenai National Forest spokesperson Shawn Ray-Delmas says the highest priority fires were, in order, the Feeder Fire, burning 11 acres, the Porcupine Fire, burning 7 acres, and the Davis Fire. All are located in the Three Rivers District in the northwest corner of the state. The fires are remote, and no structures are threatened. Multiple firefighting crews, smokejumpers, helicopters, and air tankers at working all the fires.
On the Lolo National Forest, the Lee Creek Fire is burning about 50 acres near Lolo Hot Springs. Ground and air crews are working the fire. A Lolo National Forest Facebook post says the lightning-started fire was one of 17 to erupt since July 23 across the forest. About half of those fires are human-caused. Lolo fire officials said this afternoon all of the fires are either contained or out, and all are less than one acre.
Fire danger in both the Lolo and Kootenai National Forests remains “Very High.”
The Bacon Rind Fire burning south of Big Sky in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness saw little growth over the weekend, and is now estimated at 412 acres. The fire is burning in heavy downed, dead timber. Fire fighters are monitoring the fire, but due to safety concerns they're not currently fighting it. Smoke is visible from Highway 191, but all roads are open and the fire is not threatening any structures.
The 1,068 acre Reynolds Lake Fire, burning near the Bitterroot National Forest 35 miles southwest of Darby is now 100 percent contained, according to Inciweb. Fire crews are watching the area for hot spots and flare-ups, and say smoke from the fire will remain visible for several weeks.
The Highway 37 Fire burning in asbestos-contaminated forest near Libby saw no new growth over the weekend, according to Inciweb. The fire is at 70 acres and is 60 percent conatined. Ground crews, including firefighers specially trained to work in asbestos-contaminated areas continue mop-up hot spots and build fire line. Air operations have finished, but air resources remain available as needed. Highway 37 remains open near the fire, but travelers are urged to use caution and be on the lookout for debris and loose rocks on the road.
Hot weather and high winds are in the forecast for Western Montana this week. That could bring more fire in the coming days.
Luke Robinson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Missoula, says thunderstorms are predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Some of these storms could be fairly dry, so they’re not not gonna have a whole lot of rain with them, but they’re gonna have a lot of lightning."
A dry, cold front will also bring high winds through the region on Wednesday night and into Thursday. Together, the storms and wind could lead to new fires throughout the area and increase the severity of existing fires, Robinson said.
"It’s a recipe for an increased activity," he says.
Robinson also says the weather will continue to bring smoke from fires in Northern California and Washington into the region. The smoke will stay higher in the atmosphere and look like a light haze. He expects the air quality to remain “moderate” unless local fires pick up in coming days.