STEVENSVILLE - A holdover lightning strike burst into flames Monday afternoon just north of Ambrose Saddle, about 12 miles east of Stevensville.

"It was putting up a lot of black smoke," said Bitterroot National Forest fire management officer Rick Flock. "Reports are that it was spotting and torching and running a little bit."

Smoke from the fire was visible from Hamilton.

The five-acre fire was burning on top of the ridgeline and just inside the Lolo National Forest.

Crews from both the Bitterroot and Lolo national forests were dispatched to the fire - including two helicopters - and additional resources were being ordered.

"We have a bunch of stuff headed up there," Flock said. "We'll probably provide all we can for them since it is easier to access that area from this side."

An hour before the fire was reported, Flock said he expected something to flare up soon in the Bitterroot.

"It's been kind of a strange summer," he said. "It's incredibly green up in the high country, but the dead fuels are starting to dry out pretty well."

While firefighters have been able to catch everything that has started so far this season, Flock said fires in lower elevations have been getting harder to control.

Many places on national forest lands that have been hard hit by mountain pine beetle, and a spruce budworm outbreak has turned trees brown in some areas. Some southern slopes in the higher elevations could burn readily.

"If a fire starts in the right spot, we could have some trouble," he said.

Flock wasn't sure what the forest conditions were at the fire near Ambrose Saddle.

Fire crews also responded to and extinguished three abandoned campfires over the weekend in the Darby Ranger District.

The largest fire was discovered in a dispersed campsite off Tin Cup Road about 2.5 miles west of Darby. It grew to more than half an acre before firefighters were able to contain it Sunday night.

Two other fires were discovered Sunday between Lake Como and Lost Horse.

Over the past few weeks, more than a dozen abandoned campfires have been discovered by fire crews in western Montana.

Fire officials remind campers that if a campfire is too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave.

"That should never happen, regardless of what the conditions are like out there," Flock said. "People always need to be responsible whenever they start a fire."

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at


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