UPDATED 11:30 p.m. Montana fires whipped up under red-flag conditions Friday night as a cold front moved across the state, dropping humidity and increasing winds.
Big plumes of smoke were visible on both sides of the continental divide. To the east, the Skyland Fire near Glacier grew, as did the Ahorn fire west of Augusta. To West, the Sawmill Complex east of Missoula flared up, sending a plume of smoke visible from Missoula and forcing the evacuation of more homes in Granite County.
Residents in the Williams Gulch and Wild Rose Loop near the Wyman 2 fire were evacuated Friday, as the blaze came within one quarter mile of houses, according to reports. Near the Sawmill fire, evacuations were ordered for residences on Rock Creek Road from Norton Campground to one-half mile south of Brewster Creek. Friday night reports showed the fire reaching Lick Creek Road in some places.
The complex, which consists of three fires, including the Wyman 2, the Sawmill and the Fisher Point, was estimated at 4,900 acres Friday night.
The Skyland Fire, burning near Glacier to the south-southeast between Badger Creek and Two Medicine Creek, grew again Friday as winds blew it away from Highway 2 and to the southeast of Dog Gun Lake. Crews were pulled off for safety reasons and structures in the area have been prepared, but none have been reported lost, according to reports from fire camp.
The Blackfeet Emergency Operations Center issued a mandatory evacuation Friday afternoon along Heart Butte Cutoff Road (BIA Route 2) from US Hwy 2 to BIA Route 1, not including East Glacier or Heart Butte. The Heart Butte Cutoff Road is closed south of Two Medicine Creek. Any questions regarding the evacuation should be directed to the Tribe’s EOC at (406) 338-4099.
Fire officials reported winds on the fire on average of 25 mph and gusting to 31 mph. A Red-flag warning is in effect until midnight.
The most easterly reach of the fire is just past Dog Gun Lake on the Blackfeet Reservation, and to Mule Ridge to the west near Skyland Road. It is 16 miles long and averages 1-2 miles wide. Badger Cabin, a USFS cabin in a Badger Creek tributary south of the fire, has been wrapped with a fire resistant foil. The fire was was still estimated at 19,800 acres Friday at nightfall. Highway 2, which was closed earlier this week, is still open to traffic going both ways.
Ahorn Fire, West of Augusta
The Ahorn Fire, Montana’s largest blaze of the season so far, burning the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Lewis and Clark National Forest 30 miles west of Augusta acted up as well Friday under the same conditions, growing mostly to the east toward Gibson reservoir. Some torching was spotted in the area near the Fish Wildlife and Parks cabin near the reservoir, but with the heavy smoke there’s no way to tell just how far east the blaze has spread, said fire information officer John Daugherty.
The latest acreage estimate was 41,260 acres, but Daugherty said that estimate would likely be bigger in the morning. While the fire grew mostly to the east, it did spread a little on all sides.
Firefighters were worried Thursday that the fire will move into the Goat Creek area south of Gibson, where the terrain “happens to be lined up perfectly for those winds to blow it right into those structures,” fire information officer Bob MacGregor said Thursday.
Crews have been working on structure protection in that area on the one Fish, Wildlife and Parks cabin and several structures, mostly watering and clearing fuel. The areas around the structures are “pretty green” MacGregor said and operations specialists are “quite confident they would survive>”
To the South of of the fire, there are a number of structures, including about 65 summer lease cabins in the Benchmark area. There, structure protection crews continue to run hose lines and sprinkler systems into the cabins to protect them should the fire move south. The area from the Benchmark Trailhead to the Wood Lake Campground was evacuated last weekend. Evacuations have been ordered in the Stoner area on the east side of the fire, Daugherty said.
Beaver Willow Road is to the east of the fire. To the north, the fire is nearly uncontrollable, but there is a stretch of state and private grasslands to the south of Gibson that could make it a little easier to get ahead of so crews have been scouting the area all week looking for places to dig line.
Firefighting crews will be using fire-line explosives along the crest of Sawtooth Ridge to eliminate fuels on Friday and Saturday. Crews will be starting from the Sun Canyon Road and working south, residents should not be alarmed if they hear some booms, officials say.
The rapid growth of both the Ahorn and the Fool Creek Fires prompted officials on the Lewis and Clark National Forest to close a large part of the Rocky Mountain Ranger District to the public. The closure went into effect early Thursday morning.
The closure area encompasses both wilderness and non-wilderness lands on the Rocky Mountain Ranger District and extends from Highway 2 adjacent to the Badger-Two Medicine area on the north, continuing south along the forest boundary to Observation Point; then east along Petty Crown Creek trail to the Forest boundary; then north along the forest boundary to
Highway 2, then returns west along Highway 2 to the Continental Divide. Smith Creek, Elk Creek and Dearborn trailheads remain open as well as the Smith Creek trail (#215) and the Petty Crown trail (#232). Click here for a full map of the trail and area closures.
Meriwether Fire, north of Helena
The Meriwether Fire near Wolf Creek north of Helena is still the nation’s top priority fire, burning actively within the Gates of the Mountain Wilderness.
Crews have the fire 33 percent contained. The northwest flank of the fire, near Holter Lake, was holding well and both the Beartooth road and the Beaver Creek road were reopened to residents, with all evacuations lifted. Still, on both sides of the fire those areas are not open to the public and residents have been warned to be ready at a moment’s notice to evacuate.
An active week on the fire, marked by a 10,000-acre run Wednesday, brings the fire to 32,000 acres as of Friday. Officials monitoring the blaze say, “We are dealing with fire behavior that is off the charts! We will have to re-write the text books of how fire spreads,” according to a report from camp.
Crews had been working between the northwest and northeast flanks of the fire to construct fire line, securing and mopped up the American Bar subdivision area to the southwest, and constructing dozer and hand lines along the southern perimeter.
In the wilderness there are areas that are largely inaccessible, Larsen said Thursday, and helicopters are being used there where appropriate.
A roadblock is set up at Holter Lodge and the American Red Cross has created an evacuation center at Wolf Creek School. The National Guard is now manning the roadblock.
Click here to view a map of the fire’s day-by-day progression.
Being the number one priority fire in the nation “gives us a better chance of bringing in the resources we need,” Larsen said.
Mile Marker 124 Fire, East of Missoula
East of Missoula near Clinton and just west of the Rock Creek exit on 1-90, the Mile Marker 124 Fire quieted Friday. It was so quiet in fact, that officials weren’t even going to re-map the fire Friday because there likely wasn’t any measurable growth.
The cold front “raised heck with some of the other fires, but for some reason, it didn’t hit us,” said fire information officer Don Ferguson.
Evacuation in the West Fork Cramer Creek drainage remained in effect and residents in Wallace Creek were still on a precautionary 12 to 36 hour notice of a potential evacuation.
The Mile Marker 124 Fire damaged a Verizon cell phone tower and power lines for three major utilities, but everything was back up and running as of Friday, Mcconnell said. And a Bonneville Power Administration transmission line, along I-90 that carries electricity to thousands, appears now to be out of danger, said fire information officer Laura McConnell.
Officials are looking for more information on the cause of the Mile Marker 124 Fire, ignited by multiple starts along the westbound lane of I-90, three miles east of Clinton. Investigators ruled out lightning and believe the cause may have been mechanical or vehicular malfunction. Call (406) 542-4241 if you have any information.
Also, check in often to InciWeb, where the large fires are being updated from fire camp regularly. The large fires with InciWeb pages are linked in the roundup below. Click on the name of the fire for that fire’s page.
Stage II fire restrictions, meaning no campfires, smoking, daytime industrial operations and motor vehicle use off designated roads and trails, are in effect across western and west-central Montana. Click here for more details.
There are no new starts on the
On the Bitterroot National Forest, the Rombo Fire, grew a little from 430 acres to 555. A Type II team is taking over the management of the fire Saturday.
For more on the Bitterroot blazes go to http://220.127.116.11/WildWeb/WCMT-BRC.htm and click “recent incidents.”
Noteworthy Fires in Western Montana:
- Mile Marker 124 Fire, north of Interstate 90 near Rock Creek exit, managed by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, now totals 6,245 acres. Residents west of the blaze and north of the interstate have been asked to voluntarily evacuate and evacuations have been ordered for the West Fork Cramer Creek drainage.
- The Sawmill Complex is a complex of three fires, the largest being the Wyman II Fire, in the Lolo National Forest in Welcome Creek Wilderness along Rock Creek, 22 miles southwest of Missoula. The complex was mapped at 4,900 acres Friday. Evacuations are in place along Rock Creek Road between the Sandstone/Wyman trailhead and Stony Creek. The Wyman 2 fire threatens some 190 structures. Click here for a map of the closed area near the fire.
A community meeting is scheduled for the residents of the lower Rock Creek area for 7 p.m. tonight at the Elkhorn Ranch.
- The Conger Creek Fire, Lolo National Forest, 20 miles north of Ovando along Highway 200. 4,100 acres, being managed and monitored, not actively suppressed.
- The Chippy Creek Fire The Chippy Creek Fire (formerly named “Semem Creek”), 42 miles southwest of Kalispell burned actively Thursday. By Friday morning, it was mapped at 7,000 acres — about 2,500 acres from Wednesday’s estimates although some of the growth is from better mapping. The fire started on a section of state land and quickly burned into the Chippy Creek drainage, and continues to burn east toward the Flathead Indian Reservation. The fire is almost to, or already to, the Lolo National Forest boundary with the Flathead National Forest. Crews working at the heel of the fire along the southwestern edge made significant progress Thursday shoring up dozerlines and beginning to work on the flanks of the fire. This is the area that’s closest to the structures, which are still listed as potentially threatened, but not in immediate risk. There are no evacuation orders in effect. It is still 0 percent contained.
- The Garceau Fire, 10 miles from Polson on the Flathead Indian Reservation, had burned a total of 3,045 acres by Friday morning, 93 percent contained.
- The Skyland Fire in the Flathead National Forest totals 19,680 acres, 20 percent contained. U.S. Highway 2 is now open.
- The Brush Creek Fire, about 29 air miles west of Whitefish, MT, over 5,505 acres. A small portion of the fire has crossed onto the Kootenai National Forest and Plum Creek lands. Fire managers, in coordination with Flathead County Office of Emergency Services, completed an evacuation plan for the Star Meadows area, east of the fire. A public meeting is scheduled for Friday, August 3, at 7:00pm at the Hope Ranch fire camp.
Two lightning-caused fires popped up in Southwestern Montana this week. One fire, four miles northeast of Philipsburg was quickly dealt with by half a dozen firefighters and a helicopter making water drops from a large bucket. It burned just one acre and the crew was expecting finish work on it by Tuesday evening. The second fire broke out 12 miles southeast of Wisdom near Rabbia and was contained Wednesday.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has a temporary closure in effect, including the area north of Lacy and McVey creeks and west of the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway all the way to the forest boundary east and south of Highway 43.
Noteworthy Fires in Southwestern Montana:
- The Pattengail Creek Fire, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest 10 miles northeast of Wisdom. 3,502 acres, 25 percent contained. The fire has been active on the NW and NE perimeters with short range spotting, single and group tree torching.
- The Porcupine Fire, Gallatin National Forest, 124 acres at 20 percent contained. 31 miles north of Livingston. Creeping fire activity was reported.
- The Owl Fire, burning along the Wyoming-Montana border in Yellowstone National Park, was 2,810 acres, 75 percent contained. All visitor services, park entrances and roads are open. Some trails and backcountry campsites are temporarily closed.
- Ahorn Fire, Lewis and Clark National Forest, 35 miles West of Augusta, near Benchmark. 41,260 acres.
- Fool Creek Wildland Fire Use Fire, Lewis and Clark National Forest, in Bob Marshall Wilderness. The Fool Creek acted up again Friday as a cold front passed over the area. Relative humidity was lower than expected Friday afternoon. At 2 p.m. plumes of smoke were seen around Mt. May. At 3:15 p.m., fire flared on the west side of Mt. Lockhart. The fire is still an estimated two miles from the Teton Pass ski area. Fire was also seen backing downhill near Wrong Creek and the fire was burning actively on its north flank.
Firefighters got pumps and sprinklers running at the cabins at Sabado and Wrong Creek and plan to do the same tomorrow as a precaution when the fire is expected to get active again. For the time being, this fire is being managed by a Wildland Fire Use team, meaning it is being managed for resource benefit, not actively suppressed. (Click here for more information on Wildand Fire Use teams.)
- Middle Fork Fire, Lewis and Clark National Forest, Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area, 20 miles southwest of Utica. 1,146 acres and 90 percent contained. This fire is also being managed as a Wildand Fire Use fire and is burning in a remote area. It was started on June 21 by a lightning strike.
For the most recent update on Montana fires, check back in at www.newwest.net/fire.