A red-flag warning is in effect on the fire today into the afternoon, cautioning against winds from the southwest. But, a cold front should move into Western Montana later in the evening, bringing with it some rain but also shifting winds from the northwest.
The fire made a run toward Evaro Saturday night, fueled by gusty winds, and a mandatory evacuation was issued for all property accessed off of Highway 93 on both sides of the highway from mile post 5.5 (previous evacuation area) to mile post 10 (Joe’s Smoke Ring). Some roads included in the area are Mercer Road, Evaro Road, and Beargrass Mountain Road and all property accessed from these roads.
UPDATE: Law enforcement officials have issued a preparedness request to residents between mile markers 10 and 12 on Highway 93. The area affected by this request includes both sides of Highway 93 between mile marker 10 and 12, any roads off of Highway 93 in this area and all residences accessed by those roads. Law enforcement teams will be contacting residents and asking them to move any large items (boats, trailers, etc) in case an evacuation is ordered. Livestock should also be moved to an alternate location outside of this area. Residents need to be prepared to evacuate with one hour’s notice and should have any personal items gathered and ready to go.
The fire grew to 7,900 acres Saturday and crews now have it 10 percent contained, with most of the containment on the fire’s south flank, where the fire burned into homes Thursday, destroying three vacant mobile homes, one vacant house, and several outbuildings.
Highway 93 was closed for a few hours Saturday, from the Wye (exit 96 off of I-90) to mile post 10 at Joe’s Smoke Ring, but by 9:00 p.m. it had reopened to escorted traffic.
The Red Cross has established shelters both north and south of the Highway 93 closure area, at the DeSmet School at 6355 Padre Lane in Missoula and the Arlee Community Center 248 Powwow Road in Arlee. The DeSmet School’s phone number is 406-217-1270.
An evacuation was lifted for the southern portion of Lower Mill Creek Road. Residents will be allowed to re-enter the area north of the Frenchtown Frontage Road to mile marker two, including Spring Hill Road. The area above the Mill Creek bridge will remain closed. The closed area still includes the Mill Creek stables. Residents need to remain ready to re-evacuate within one hour if necessary.
Highway 93 is being used as a containment line to the east, fire information officer Brenda Bowen said. The fire has not crossed the road, but “In some places the fire is very close.”
To the west, near Mill Creek Road, “things are looking good,” Bowen said, though the fire there is slowly backing down the hill. Engines will be hunkered down out there throughout the night in case the fire flares up, Bowen said.
The fire is now the No. 1 priority in the nation for resources and Saturday brought 180 more people to the fire so Sunday, 383 people were working the fire. The fire management was taken over by the Rocky Mountain Type I team and Type I Interagency Hotshot crews came to the fire Saturday. Managers also expected type II hand crews. Sunday morning, seven crews, 31 engines and one helicopter were assigned to the fire.
Air resources have been limited by the dense smoke, fire information officer Peter D’Aquanni said. “The aircraft is here, it’s at the airport, we just need the right air conditions to use it.”
While the weekend fire behavior was intense, it was nothing like Thursday afternoon and evening, when the Black Cat fire raced from 850 acres to more than 4,000, burning south and west through a mix of grass, brush, and timber and into residential neighborhoods. Structures were lost, including the three vacant mobile homes, one vacant house, and a few outbuildings. The fire forced the evacuations of at least 200 residences that night. (Click here to see NewWest.Net photographer Anne Medley’s photo gallery from that night.)
Fire officials are asking that passersby do not stop along the road to observe the fire — it presents a safety hazard to yourself, other motorists and firefighters.
The fire threatens BPA and NorthWestern Energy power lines, a microwave tower site, a wooden railroad trestle and a number of structures.
The fire is under DNRC jurisdiction and it started about five miles east of Frenchtown Pond, which has been closed for recreation.
It was reported about 2:15 in the afternoon Tuesday and was immediately responded to by aerial and ground resources from around the area, including engines and personnel from Frenchtown, Victor and Florence volunteer fire departments, Missoula Rural fire department, Lolo National Forest and DNRC.
The fire was ignited by lightning, D’Aquanni said.
Check back at www.newwest.net/missoula for updates.
Click here for a photo gallery of the progression of the fire.
Click here for photos from a homeowner as he evacuated Thursday night.