Waterton Lake fire

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire on the west shore of Waterton Lake on Saturday.

Provided by Clem Work

A weekend’s worth of lightning and wind pushed the Northern Rockies region to the highest fire-preparedness level possible, but that hasn’t freed up many resources from other fire-struck parts of the country.

“There just aren’t that many resources, whether people, fire engines or whatever, available,” U.S. Forest Service Region 1 spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown said Monday. “They’re all committed. As they’re ready to start moving people out of California, the Washington and Oregon areas have first priority. But we’re second.”

Montana and Idaho had 86 active fires burning Monday, including seven in Montana that had no firefighters on scene yet. Slown said all seven were small blazes burning in remote parts of northwest Montana.

Meanwhile, at least 100 aircraft, 75 20-person crews and 229 fire engines are deployed in western Montana and the Idaho Panhandle. That moved the region to Preparedness Level 5, which means it has top priority for any available firefighting supplies that become available.

Eight Type 1 or Type 2 incident management teams have been assigned to several complexes covering about 30 large fires in the area, Slown said. That includes the 43,000-acre Clearwater Complex in Idaho and the 13,784-acre Thompson fire in Glacier National Park.

The Thompson fire’s team has also absorbed responsibility for two new fires in the Great Bear Wilderness south of the park. The Sheep fire is estimated at 77 acres and the Granite fire is 27 acres as of Monday night. The fires are now listed as the Thompson-Divide Complex, according to park spokeswoman Katie Liming.

Also in Glacier, a 25-acre fire on the west shore of Waterton Lake got quick attention from Canadian firefighters, including a Type 2 firefighting team assisted by a helicopter. The fire has forced closure of many backcountry trails in both Glacier and Waterton national parks. For the complete list, check Glacier Park’s website at bit.ly/1UPILwQ.

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The Kootenai National Forest got rocked last Thursday night when a thunderstorm sparked 16 fires in the Bull River-Huron area and only 14 firefighters were available in the ranger district.

“We’ve gotten a lot of additional resources since then,” Troy District Ranger Kirsten Kaiser said on Monday afternoon. “And some of the fires have clustered together. Our current count is 12 and the largest is about 100 acres.”

That doesn’t count the 2,300-acre Scotchman fire just across the jurisdictional line in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. That fire has blackened a large swath of the proposed Scotchman Peaks wilderness area, leading to closures of nearly all of its hiking trails. Kaiser said that fire was poised to cross into Kootenai Forest territory.

Kootenai-area closures west of Montana Highway 56 include the Dry Creek Road and trail, Pillick Flat Road, Hamilton Gulch Trail, Star Gulch Trail, Napoleon Gulch Trail, Pillick Ridge Trail, Blacktail Trail and Big Eddy Trail. East of Highway 56 toward the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, closures include the Goat Rocks Road, Berray Mountain Road and Trail, Berray Mountain West Trail, Dad Peak Trail and Devil’s Club Trail. The Jacks Gulch Road above private land is also closed in the West Fork Elk Creek area.

Also in northwest Montana, the Marston fire near Eureka was mapped at 1,500 acres, with firefighters working to build line in a fuel break east of Deep Creek. Near Libby, the Weigel fire was estimated at 100 acres and the Dunn fire has burned 74 acres. Both fires have line entirely around them.

Crews also had defensive lines around most of the 150-acre Sunday fire in the Tally Lake Ranger District. A total of 224 firefighters, 16 engines, seven bulldozers, three feller-bunchers, six skidgines and six water tenders have been deployed on those fires.

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Near Seeley Lake, the Morrell Complex of fires has burned 380 acres in the mountains east of Lake Alva. A team of 20 firefighters is assigned to it, with three more 20-person teams requested. Three excavators, one feller-buncher, five water tenders, three fire engines, one bulldozer and five skidgines have also been put into duty. No structures are threatened in the area, which is about three miles east of Montana Highway 83.

Farther inside the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Three Sisters fire 35 miles northeast of Swan Lake has burned 431 acres near Rocky Mountain in the Spotted Bear River drainage. It has five personnel observing its progress, but no suppression efforts requested.

Likewise, the Family Peak Complex of fires has burned a total 530 acres across three separate blazes west of Choteau. The Spotted Eagle fire in that complex went from a half-acre on Aug. 12 to 460 acres on Aug. 14 after a series of thunderstorms rolled over the area.

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The Wildhorse Point fire seven miles south of Huson has burned about 87 acres and was producing smoke visible from the Missoula Valley. Red-flag weather warnings with possible wind gusts of 50 mph were keeping the fire crews braced for expansion. A team of 140 state and federal personnel are assigned to it, backed up by heavy equipment and retardant bombers. Parts of the Albert Creek Road, Corral Creek Road and Albert Lothrop Road are closed because of fire activity.

Evacuation notices for the Alice Creek area were lifted Sunday after the Sucker Creek fire near Lincoln calmed down in the cool, wet weather. It remains active across 2,600 acres, and has closed parts of the Sucker Creek Road, North Fork Keep Cool Road and Copper Creek Road.

The Scotchman Gulch fire 14 miles southwest of Philipsburg has burned about 186 acres and remains uncontained. It has a crew of 115 people assigned and is threatening structures and cattle pastures in the Upper Willow Creek and Rock Creek drainages.

The Cabin Creek fire southeast of Dillon has burned about 895 acres in the Blacktail Mountains. It was reported 60 percent contained Monday, with a mix of Forest Service and state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation crews backed up by three bulldozers, a helicopter and seven fire engines fighting it.

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In the Bitterroot Valley, the Buck Horn fire had burned about 50 acres and was 5 percent contained Monday, as a Type 1 hotshot crew from Alaska arrived to confront it. That brought the total personnel attached to 50. The fire is about one mile from the Skalkaho Highway, which remains open.

Heavy air tankers and three helicopters had dropped 30,000 gallons of retardant and 80,000 gallons of water on the Buck Horn and nearby Canyon Creek fires as of Monday.

The Canyon Creek fire seven miles west of Hamilton has burned about 17 acres in the popular hiking and climbing area south of Blodgett Canyon. It has 20 people assigned to contain it.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.