After weeks of smoke, fire and the fear that houses would be lost, almost all Seeley Lake residents were allowed to return home as of Sunday morning.
Nicole Stickney, public information officer for the Rice Ridge fire, said that the evacuation orders for Zones 2 and 3 have been lifted and downgraded to warnings, while the Zone 5 evacuation order is still in place.
“For four days we’ve been working hard on line,” around those homes Stickney said. “There’s a cedar bog above Cottonwood Road that we’ve been dumping water on for days. It’s still holding heat but it’s not going to jump or spot.”
The firefighters have been aggressive on the Rice Ridge fire as well, starting a massive 4,500-acre burnout near Ovando at 2 p.m. on Sunday. But good weather news has been in the forecast as well. Corby Dickerson, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Missoula, said that a “pretty notable pattern shift” was coming to Montana later this week.
A storm system is coming off the Gulf of Alaska and will be turning into the Northwest, bringing forecasts of rain and cooler temperatures.
“This is a kind of system that comes into a region and puts a chokehold on fire season,” Dickerson said. “Not sprinkles, not drizzle, but maybe for several places it will feel like it actually rained.”
The September pattern change that Dickerson and other meteorologists at the NWS have been murmuring about for the past week is becoming more and more of a probability rather than a possibility, mostly because the system forecasted for later this week is looking like just the first of many to come.
“Cross your fingers and say your prayers,” Dickerson said, because this might be the extinguisher these fires need.
The Lolo Peak fire has burned more than 50,000 acres in the seven weeks it has been active. While all evacuation orders have been rescinded, Type II fire restrictions are still in place in the entirety of Missoula County.
Sustained winds were predicted for Lolo Peak Sunday, while the fire is still active on the west side of operations. Crews continued to address spot fires and reinforce fire lines.
The Alice Creek fire is still growing and is moving downhill toward structures while firefighters work hotspots and set up sprinklers to lower temperatures and wet the area.
Very Large Air Tankers (VLATs) and a Super Scooper were prepared to work if the fire pushed toward Highway 200 while helicopters work throughout the fire.
A Red Cross shelter is on standby at the Wolf Creek Elementary School at 150 Walsh St., in Lincoln.
The Southern Area Type I Incident Management Team assumed command for both the Sapphire Complex and the Meyers fire. Structure protection is the main focus while crews continue to mend and make lines while working to knock out hot spots on both fires.
The Caribou fire near Eureka has grown to almost 20,000 acres and is now at 25 percent containment while the Gibralter Ridge fire has reached 8,000 acres.
A mandatory evacuation order for the West Kootenai area north of Tooley Lake was lifted at 10 a.m. Sunday. Other pre-evacuation warnings for south of Tooley Lake and Basin Creek remain in effect. A pre-evacuation order for Sherman Creek, Griffith Creek, Therriault Pass Road, Stevens Creek, Glen Lake and Sinclair Creek areas also remain in effect.
The Highway 200 Complex, of the Sheep Gap, Deep Creek, Cub Creek, Miller Creek, and Reader fires had crews hold on to fire lines and suppress spot fires while a cold front moved in on Saturday.
Pre-evacuation warnings are being completed by the Sanders County Sherriff’s department. There are no current evacuation orders in place.
The Sunrise fire is at 95 percent containment and has only 32 people working on it currently, down from the more than 500 firefighters and crew assigned earlier in the season.
Highway 200 air support will be called in if the fire jumps Quartz Creek while staff continues to rehabilitate the firefighting areas as they have over the last few weeks.
The West Fork fire just northwest of Libby is nearly at 10,000 acres. A spot fire was sighted and slowed during Sunday afternoon, while burnout operations continue in the Bobtail Ridge area.
Winds were expected throughout Sunday and there have been no changes to the evacuation orders.
The Liberty fire saw increased fire activity Saturday with notable growth along the northeast corner by Grouse and Second creeks where there is a potential threat to powerlines.
Sunday saw burnout operations to improve fire line around Grouse and Second creeks while other firefighters will be scouting bulldozer lines by the Mineral Primm fire scar.
The Sprague fire has burned 13,711 acres in Glacier National Park. Higher winds Saturday did not increase fire activity as higher humidity and cloud cover slowed fire progress. Improved visibility allowed helicopters to drop water along Snyder Ridge and on Mt. Brown.
The evacuation order from the south end of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass is currently in place. Logan Pass is still accessible from the east side of the park.