A fast-moving wildfire forced the evacuation of roughly 25 homes in the Colorado Gulch area of Grant Creek on Monday evening as aircraft dropping retardant roared overhead.
At least one fifth-wheel trailer (a large RV home) was burned, along with several vehicles and some outbuildings, according to the Missoula County Sheriff's Department.
A line of cars streamed up and down Grant Creek Road as people ferried their pets to town or raced up to check on their property.
The fire, located about 4 miles north of Interstate 90, was between 10-12 acres in size as of 9 p.m. It is burning in timber and grass. Approximately 20 structures were threatened, according to Boyd Hartwig, a spokesman for the Lolo National Forest. Multiple agencies responded, Hartwig added. Several aircraft were attacking the blaze, including a heavy tanker and a helicopter.
“Retardant drops from tankers have been effective in checking fire growth,” Hartwig said. “Law enforcement is coordinating with fire officials to notify homeowners of immediate evacuations."
No injures were reported as of 10:30 p.m. Monday night.
The cause of the Colorado Gulch fire has not been determined, but it started at 6:22 p.m. Homeowners along Starwood Drive, south of Colorado Gulch, were advised to prepare to evacuate by the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office. Brenda Bassett, spokeswoman for the MCSO, said the department used a reverse 9-1-1 system to notify residents and had deputies knock on doors. They utilize a “ready-set-go” system for fire evacuations. Colorado Gulch residents are on “go;” the residents of Starwood Drive are on “set.” She recommended people stay away from the area, even if they haven’t been ordered to go.
"I know there's always an issue with people who don't want to leave when the fire's coming,” Bassett said. “But should that fire weather change, they might put other people at risk, and truth be told, we might not be able to get up there."
Traffic on Grant Creek Road was opened late Monday night, but a roadblock was still in place on Colorado Gulch.
Jordan Koppen, a fire information officer with the Montana Department of Resources and Conservation, said that firefighters responded very quickly.
"We're doing our best up there," he said. "Once you turn into Colorado Gulch (the fire) is on the left, but it's a little ways up there."
Saskia Jacobson was one of the residents of Colorado Gulch who was waiting at the intersection of Grant Creek and Starwood Drive to find out more information. She said her family and pets weren’t in the house, and it had a metal roof, but she was still worried.
“There's not that many structures that high on the hill, but we are the highest," she said.
She described the forest around her house as "thick."
Maps of the area and more information are posted on the Sheriff's Department Facebook page.
Check back later on Missoulian.com for updates.