Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Montana Wildfire Roundup For July 24, 2017

The Goat Creek Fire from St. Mary Peak Sunday
Rob Saldin
The Goat Creek Fire from St. Mary Peak Sunday

Updated 4:10 pm

In Lolo tonight, there’s a public meeting at Lolo Elementary at 7 p.m. about the Lolo Peak fire. Another meeting on the fire is scheduled for the same time Tuesday at Stevensville High School.

We’re staring our fire roundup with the largest fire in Montana, and will update other fires in descending order as quickly as we can, and update this post as information comes in today.

The Lodgepole Complex of four fires, mostly in Garfield County, is now estimated at 226,000 acres, although fire officials say that’s only a rough estimate due to insufficient staff to get a more accurate number. It is zero percent contained. 

There was extreme fire behavior is expected today. Strong southerly winds pushed the fire north.

There are more than 215 people assigned to the fire, with more on order and arriving daily.

Twelve homes have been destroyed, as well as an untold but significant amount of fencing and haystacks. Just over 50 people who live north of Highway 200 in western Garfield County remain under evacuation.

The weather forecast includes another red flag warning for today. 

There is a chance of isolated thunderstorms with dry lightning ahead of a cold front forecast to pass through today, which will cause winds to shift out of the northwest at 15-25 mph. This could cause an increase in fire activity especially to the south and east. A Red Flag Warning remains in effect through 9:00 p.m. Monday for northern Montana east of the Continental Divide.

Credit InciWeb

The Crying Fire in Petroleum County about 50 miles northwest of Winnett is now estimated at 7,925 acres and 35 percent contained.

It is burning in grass, sage and timber on BLM, private, state and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge lands. The fire was lightning caused.

Crews have responded from the BLM, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Petroleum County. There were 96 personnel on the Crying Fire today. No accidents or injuries have occurred. Two outbuildings were lost.

Structure protection will continue in the subdivision SE of the Fire and efforts are being made to keep the fire to the West side of the Musselshell river. The Barker Fire in the Lodgepole Complex is pushing from the East threatening the structures on the Crying Fire.

On the Chinn Fire 12 miles south of White Sulpher Springs, the Meagher County Sheriff’s Office has lifted the evacuation order for only residents of the Black Butte subdivision. The area is still under a closure order for the general public because of continued fire suppression activities and hazardous conditions within the fire area.

The Chinn Fireis estimated at 7,090 in size and 90 percent contained, burning in mixed grass and timber.

Today ground crews, assisted by aerial resources if necessary, will continue to strengthen and hold fire line. In areas of containment line, crews will conduct mop up operations to check the soils for hot spots and residual heat sources. Up to 25 percent of the fire perimeter is still active fire line meaning that given the right weather conditions, such as high winds, the fire could threaten that line or continue to expand in size. Three-quarters of the perimeter is considered contained which signifies those areas pose little threat from the fire escaping. The fire will be placed in control status when the entire perimeter has containment line surrounding it. The fire will not be deemed out until all heat within the fire perimeter is extinguished.

Fires suppression and mop up operations are continuing along Highways 12 and 89. To prevent traffic hazards, please stop or pull over in designated turn outs only. Also, please slow down and drive with caution to ensure the safety of firefighters working in those areas.

There are three large fires burning in Lewis and Clark County; the Park Creek, Arrastra Creek and Alice Creek Fires.

The largest is the Park Creek Fire, two miles north of Lincoln, which infra-red mapping puts at 2,900 acres. It is 18 percent contained. Yesterday, fire managers say: “Although the fire exhibited active fire behavior in the interior fuels, there was limited movement and little growth. The majority of the fire behavior was backing with the west winds, as well as creeping and single tree torching. A few smaller columns of smoke were visible in the Liverpool and Yukon drainages, as afternoon winds picked up and relative humidity levels dropped. Aerial resources completed reconnaissance flights to make sure previously reported hot spots were kept in check. Structure assessments are complete, and the handline in Park Creek is plumbed with a hose lay and pumps.

“Heavy equipment and crews will improve the constructed fuel break along the southern edge of the fire, working westward along the Park Creek Road to the Beaver Creek Road. Helicopters are available for water drops when needed.

“The management strategy for this fire is to utilize burned areas from previous fire years to assist in the containment and maximize the use of mechanical equipment to minimize firefighter exposure to hazards/snags.”

Wind gusts of 25 mph are keeping fire fighters vigilant on the  Arrastra Creek Fire  northwest of Lincoln. Currently, the fire has consumed 2,500 acres and is 10 percent contained.

The latest fact sheet on this fire says, "The fire was active in the interior fuels, with backing fire through the grass and small shrubs in the morning and single tree torching in the afternoon as winds picked up and relative humidity levels dropped. Smaller columns of smoke were visible. Theodore Creek saw active fire behavior, but overall, there was very little fire growth. Heavy equipment progressed westward with the constructed fuel break along the Beaver Creek Road to the west. Crews made progress on constructing handline to tie into Arrastra Creek Trail.

“Heavy equipment is working its way west with the establishment of a fuelbreak along the Beaver Creek Road primarily clearing on the north side of the road. Crews will brush out along the Arrastra Creek trail and work to tie in handline with the constructed fuel break along the Beaver Creek Road near the switchbacks in the road system.

The management strategy for this fire is to utilize burn areas from previous fire years to assist in the containment and maximize the use of mechanical equipment to minimize firefighter exposure to hazards/snags.”

The Alice Creek Fire is 16 miles northeast of Lincoln, estimated at 20 acres and zero percent contained.

This morning’s fact sheet on the fire says, “A crew and local firefighters from the Lincoln Ranger District, assisted by 2 helicopters, are assigned to the fire. Total personnel working on the fire is 26.

Although the fire exhibited active fire behavior, there was limited growth in size. Firefighters worked to construct handline on the north/northeast edge of the fire, working off the north-south ridgeline between Alice Creek and Falls Creek. Helicopters assisted the ground response with water bucket drops to cool hot spots. The crew spent the night in a spike camp near the fire, decreasing travel time to and from the remote location and maximizing work time.

“The firefighters will continue with handline construction, aided by helicopter water bucket drops to keep areas of heat in check."

There are now seven large fires burning on the Lolo National Forest.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for high winds in areas around the  Little Hogback/Sliderock Fire until 9pm tonight. The Little Hogback has consumed 2,300 acres and is zero percent contained. It is burning 27 miles southeast of Missoula. A very large Forest Service closure is in place as well as a staffed road closure stretching from milemarker 1 on the Rock Creek Road to the Gillis Bridge/Kyle Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge.

Nearby is the approximately 396 acres Sliderock Fire. Yesterday firefighters continued to patrol and mop up around Sliderock Mountain. The fire backed towards the East Fork drainage while the northern edge presents little concern. On the east side firefighters mopped up around an electronic communications site and structures. All flanks of the fire will continue to be monitored over the hot days ahead.

Continued breezy west winds along with warm and dry conditions will keep fire behavior active until after sundown. The Little Hogback fire is expected to move to the northeast. The Sliderock fire is expected to move to the northeast.

A very large Forest Service closure is in place as well as a staffed road closure stretching from milemarker 1 on the Rock Creek Road to the Gillis Bridge/Kyle Bohrnsen Memorial Bridge. Local home owners with proper identification are currently allowed into the closure area.

The 1,817 acre Goat Creek Fire approximately eight miles south of Clinton is expected to be active today due to hot and dry conditions with near record low fuel moisture levels. The forecast is for continued breezy west winds that are expected to push the fire east, and to keep it active until after sundown.

The Sunrise Fire south of I-90 between Alberton and Superior is estimated at 1,000 acres.

The Mineral County Sheriff has issued a Stage 2 Evacuation for the residents of Sunrise and Quartz Flats. This afternoon the Sunrise Fire was spotted just south of Sunrise Peak, which triggered the move to Stage 2 Evacuation. Stage 2 means that residents should be ready to evacuate quickly if conditions worsen. This is not an immediate evacuation. The residents in Quartz Creek remain in Stage 2 evacuation status.

A continued high pressure system will bring hot and dry conditions for the next several days. This will lead to increased fire behavior and continued fire perimeter growth. this high pressure will continue into next week with a possible cold front passage projected for Tuesday.

The 1,370 acre Burdette Fire is burning 13 miles southeast of Tarkio, it is zero percent contained. Fire managers on it say, “Firefighters made strides in a number of ways on the Sunrise Fire. Dozer line contruction along ridges and existing roads has been initiated between Sunrise Mountain and Sunrise Point. Struction protection is in place and operational in the Quartz Creek area. Homes in the Sunrise and Quartz Flats area were assessed and initial placement of sprinklers and pumps began in Sunrise. Helicopter landing sites were cleared in multiple locations. Aerial resources focused retardant and bucket work on the ridgeline above Quartz Creek. Crews from New York, Ohio and Virginia arrived late yesterday and will join existing crews on the fireline..”

"Today will be a  Red Flag day for the fire due to increased temperatures and winds and low relative humidity. The fuels on this fire are historically dry. Fire managers anticipate that the fire will be very active today and have directed the firefighters to disengage if conditions warrant. Heavy air support with retardant and helicopter bucket drops will continue throughout the day. Crews will continue to locate roads to open with hand crews and large equipment. Where feasible, dozers will open roads and trails to create fire containment lines. Structure protection continues in the Quartz Flats and Sunrise Creek areas assessing structures, installing sprinkler equipment, and removing ignition sources. Firefighter and public saftey continues to be the number one priority as crews work diligently to supress the fire."

Fire crews have started hand-digging a containment line north of the 751 acre Lolo Peak Fire burning in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

They’re digging it at the toe of the slope in the Highway 12 corridor west of the town of Lolo.

The majority of this fire is still burning within the northern boundary of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. It has reached but not crossed the divide on the eastern boundary.

The fire is still about eight miles away from the highway, but Fire Information Officer Mike Cole says they want to be ready if it makes a run.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect today with 10-20 mph winds and low relative humidity.

"Our objective is to build a control line between the fire when it eventually comes down the hill, if it does, in those areas, between that and the homes and residents and structures," Cole said. 

Another hot, dry day with light, westerly winds occurred over the fire area yesterday.

While the southern portion of the fire continued to back slowly down to Anderson Creek, the northwest corner of the fire was the most active, with movement towards Falls Creek. The fire continued this trend and burned actively overnight.

Today firefighters will construct fire line from the South Fork of Lolo Creek towards Elk Meadows and continue to work with landowners to identify fire line locations in the Hwy 12 and Hwy 93 corridors. More crews and some heavy equipment are expected to arrive today. 

Northeast of Seeley Lake the Monahan Fire was listed at 560 acres on Friday. It is located between Monahan Mountain and the border of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It has produced smoke visible in Ovando and Helmville.

Public safety and the safety of agency personnel remain the primary management objectives of the incident. Three trail closures near Limestone Pass, Little Apex Mountain, and the East Fork of Monture Creek remain in effect.

Fire personnel will continue to monitor fire activity. Structure protection plans are in place for the Burnt Fork, Danaher, and Basin Creek cabins.

This is a Type 4 Incident being managed by the Lolo National Forest fire personnel.

In Southwest Montana, there are two large fires on the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest.

The 1,504 acre Whetstone Ridge Fire west of Butte is being called “active,” with short range spotting and groups of trees torching.

A type one incident management team was scheduled to take over management of the fire this morning.

Plans today are to protect structures, scout fuel breaks and use heavy equipment to create control lines.  

The 895 acre Meyers Fire “did not have a lot of movement to the east and was relatively quiet yesterday,” fire managers say. “A good fuel break and handline is in place for the residences around Moose Lake. Predicted weather for today is hotter and drier with calmer winds. A new Area Closure was implemented for the Whetstone Ridge and Meyers Fires. Lakes affected by the Closure are Kaiser Lake, Moose Lake, Whetstone Lake and Green Canyon Lake. .  Moose Lake Road #5106 is open to local traffic only. Ross Fork Road #70 is closed south of Milo Lake open to local traffic only. The Copper Creek Road #80 is closed at the junction with Moose Lake Road #5106 open to local traffic only. The Copper Creek Campground is closed. For a detailed description and map of the Area Closure, go online to go to

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.