Montana Gov. Steve Bullock declared a fire emergency in Montana over the weekend following a series of new fire starts around the state, primarily from thunderstorms and lightning strikes during the past week.
The executive order means that Montana can utilize additional state resources, including the Montana National Guard, to help fight fires. The governor can also use funds set aside for emergencies.
In a news release, the governor's office said Bullock will be visiting fire locations around the state over the coming week.
Two of the three fires that make up the Morrell Complex have merged, and the two fires are now a half-mile apart. With the help of more accurate GPS mapping, the size of the two fires is now estimated at 380 acres. Partially due to cooler weather on Saturday, the fire saw no significant growth over the weekend, and there was a large reduction in the amount of smoke, with no column visible on Sunday.
More heavy equipment and personnel have arrived at the fire, including 20 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service. Crews are now working to identify places to get their equipment into the area of the fire and engage it directly, with the priority being to focus on the south and west sides to keep the Morrell Complex away from Seeley Lake. An area closure is in place, but homeowners are allowed to access their houses.
The Lolo National Forest also saw several small lightning-caused fires between Friday and Saturday, several of which were quickly contained, although a crew is still working on the Middle Rock fire north of DeBorgia, which was at around 10 acres and 85 percent containment on Sunday.
The Sucker Creek fire to the northeast of Lincoln grew slightly over the weekend to 2,500 acres. A Type 2 team with 160 firefighters has the fire at 10 percent containment. Closures in the Landers Fork area at Elk Trail Pass are still in place, but the closures at Alice Creek were lifted.
Cooler weather helped as firefighters started work on fire lines around the Wildhorse Point fire seven miles south of Huson. Ninety firefighters are on the blaze, which is sitting at 75 acres in size.
A series of fires collectively referred to as the Bear Creek fires are burning roughly 2,700 acres in the Flathead National Forest to the southwest of Spotted Bear Mountain. The largest among them is the Trail Creek fire at 2,500 acres. Closures in place include Spotted Bear River Road and its trailhead, as well as the Bunker Creek and Chipmunk Creek trails.
The Thompson fire in Glacier National Park is burning at 13,680 acres in a remote area of the park about 15 miles east of the West Glacier entrance in the Thompson Creek and Nyack Creek drainages. Over the weekend, a fire crew flew into the Nyack drainage to work on structure protection for a backcountry patrol cabin, as well as assist in helicopter water drops. The crew is working to build a wet line along avalanche chutes to prevent the fire from spreading further. Other firefighters are assessing options if the fire crosses the Continental Divide. The fire has not made any moves east toward the divide so far.
All of the backcountry campgrounds in the area are closed, as well as a series of trails including the Siyeh Pass, Red Eagle, Nyack Creek and Cutbank Pass.
Work continues on the Waterton Lake fire just south of the Canadian border near the Goat Haunt area. The fire remained at its 25-acre size over the weekend, and is being managed by a combination of resources from the United States and Canada. Trails in the area on both sides of the border have been closed, including the Lakeshore and Boundary Creek trails, as well as the Pass Creek day use area. The Bertha Lake, Summit Lake and Carthew-Alderson trails will reopen on Monday. The Waterton Shoreline Cruise is still running between Waterton and Goat Haunt, but backcountry access is closed.
The Scotchman Gulch fire, about 14 miles northwest of Philipsburg, is now estimated at 186 acres, about half the size estimate from Saturday. John Thompson’s Type 2 team is now in charge of the fire, with about 50 other firefighting personnel.
The fire is threatening buildings on private land in the Upper Willow Creek and Rock Creek drainages, and could reach livestock and hay fields. It has also caused the closure of Miners Gulch Road, as well as the Sandstone/Wyman Trail and Hogback Trail. Access to the fire is limited, as it is in an area of steep, rocky terrain. Fire crews are working to construct a landing area on Sandstone Ridge to get personnel into the region, who will then work on the fire’s west and northwest sides.
The Cabin Creek fire, about 12 miles southeast of Dillon in the Blacktail Mountain Range, had little to no growth over the weekend and is still at 1,400 acres. Firefighters used the cooler weather to build fire lines with bulldozers along the west side of the fire, protecting any structures the fire could have reached. Air tankers and helicopters also dropped retardant and water on the fire, helping line work on the east side. Cabin Creek is listed as 35 percent contained.
The Dillon Dispatch Center is currently managing 14 different fires, many of which were started by lightning and 10 of which were staffed. Quick response meant the staffed fires were held to a minimal size, were contained and are in mop-up stage.
Clearwater Complex (Idaho)
Greg Poncin’s Type I incident management team, which most recently was in charge of the Reynolds Creek fire in Glacier National Park, has now been assigned to the Clearwater Complex near Kamiah, Idaho. The series of fires in the complex exploded over the weekend, growing more than 20,000 acres to reach 52,759 acres in size. More than 750 firefighters are working to stop the spread, which has already consumed 30 residences and 79 outbuildings in the region.
Evacuations have been put in place on the outskirts of Kamiah, and traffic on U.S. Highway 12 is slowed in the area because a pilot car is moving drivers through the section north of town. Firefighters are working to construct fire lines, with the priority being structure protection. The lightning-started fires in the complex are currently at 15 percent contained, and the cost of fighting those fires has exceeded $4 million.