A 10-acre wildfire erupted Monday afternoon on Lolo Pass, hours after the Lolo National Forest announced the Siegel Creek fire southeast of Paradise was reduced to monitoring status.
As thunder boomers roll into southwestern Montana from the west, it should be an interesting fire week. Wind and lightning accompanying the storms could cause havoc in rapidly drying forests. On the other hand, they're bringing along that old June throwback - rain. That could postpone a full onslaught of fire season for at least a few more days, and maybe into August.
"It's kind of a twofold thing," said Michelle Mead, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in Missoula. "The good news is we're anticipating quite a bit of moisture with (the thunderstorms). We're hoping the lightning stays closer to the wet cells, but it's not guaranteed."
Lightning storms on Monday were generally south of a line from Grangeville, Idaho, through Hamilton to near Deer Lodge. Mead said that line will move north on Tuesday, and by Wednesday most of western Montana will be affected.
While strong storms aren't expected, the Weather Service cautioned aviators to watch for abundant lightning and moderate downdrafts.
Lightning is a leading suspect in the Lolo Pass fire.
A lookout on the Clearwater National Forest reported the 10-acre fire at about 2:30 p.m. Monday on a slope above Packer Meadows, about three miles northeast of Lolo Pass and roughly a mile from the Idaho line.
Lolo National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig said 20 firefighters had responded by 5 p.m., 12 of them smokejumpers and the others from the Lolo forest.
Two large air tankers and a helicopter were also on the fire. Additional resouces may be called in as needed.
Hartwig said the fire was burning in a fairly remote area and no structures or property are threatened.
While smoke from the 124-acre Siegel Creek fire could linger until the autumn deluges, the fire will be fought with "as needed" helicopter bucket drops from here on out.
"There are areas of the fire that will continue to show smoke throughout the summer until the available fuels are consumed," Julie Molzahn of the Lolo National Forest said. "The expectation is that on hot, dry days - especially when there are winds - smoke will be seen from the interior areas of the fire."
The actual fire is well inside the control lines, Molzahn added. Much of the area is too steep and rugged to allow safe firefighter access.
The Siegel fire was ignited July 17 or 18 from an abandoned campfire a quarter mile up the Siegel Creek Road and east of the Clark Fork River. Flames were visible from Montana Highway 135 in the Quinn's Hot Springs area.
Officials are asking that anyone with information on the cause of the fire call the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District at (406) 826-3821.
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.