Peak fire season has hit western Montana and Idaho as crews battle against several blazes spurred on by the past week’s high temperatures and wind.
The Morrell Complex, formerly the Richmond Ridge Complex, located six miles northeast of Seeley Lake, grew to around 500 acres Saturday morning.
Officials have put in place an area closure around the Morrell Complex. The western edge of the closure area is Montana Highway 83, with the roadway itself remaining open to the public. The closure extends to the south until Cottonwood Lakes Road. Homeowners inside the area are allowed access to their houses, no evacuations are in place at this time and no structures are currently being threatened.
The 15 firefighters on the Morrell Complex were using Saturday to examine which direction the fire is moving and choose locations to build fire lines on the southeast and west sides using excavators. The priority for fire lines is to contain growth toward Highway 83 or the buildings on the edge of Seeley Lake.
More fire crews are on the way, and firefighters are being helped by aircraft resources. Cooler weather on Saturday meant that fire growth was subdued.
Cooler weather also helped firefighters Saturday as they worked to establish an anchor point and start line construction around the Wildhorse Point fire, seven miles south of Huson. The fire started Thursday afternoon and was likely ignited by a lightning strike. The fire’s estimated size grew to 75 acres. The fire has been active due to windy conditions causing spotting.
Ninety personnel are working on the blaze. Multiple engines and heavy equipment were on the fire Saturday. One additional Type 2 crew arrived early this afternoon. One Type 2 helicopter was on scene performing bucket work. No structures are threatened by this fire.
The Scotchman's Gulch fire continues to burn 14 miles northwest of Philipsburg. The fire was first discovered Thursday, and is now at 350 acres. On Friday, a Type 2 incident management team under John Thompson assumed command of the fire, which has 50 firefighters assigned to it.
The blaze is threatening private buildings in the Upper Willow Creek and Rock Creek drainages, and could reach livestock and hay fields. The fire has caused the closure of Miners Gulch Road, as well as the Sandstone/Wyman Trail and Hogback Trail.
After air tankers dropped retardant on the fire's south and east sides on Friday, crews will use the weekend to develop a plan to slow growth on the southern side, where access is limited.
The Cabin Creek fire, about 12 miles southeast of Dillon in the Blacktail Mountain Range, is up to 1,400 acres since it was first located Friday. The lightning-caused blaze has 43 personnel working on it, with a pair of Type 2 hand crews, two fire engines and a pair of bulldozers on the way to help build fire lines on the west side.
The Thompson fire in Glacier National Park is still burning in a remote area of the park about 15 miles east of the West Glacier entrance in the Thompson Creek and Nyack Creek drainages. GPS mapping has allowed fire officials to more accurately determine the fire's size, now sitting at 13,680 acres. The fire, which has been burning for a week, has 111 personnel as well as helicopter air support attached to it, and is still rated at zero percent contained.
Fire crews planned to use Saturday to fly into the areas near Cutbank Pass and Nyack Creek drainage to work on suppressing fire hot spots and reinforcing structure protection measures. 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.
Just south of the Canadian border in Glacier National Park, the Waterton Lake fire is currently at 25 acres on the slope of Campbell Mountain to the west of Upper Waterton Lake. The fire is near the Goat Haunt area.
Crews from both the United States and Canada are working on the blaze. Between overnight rain and cooler temperatures Saturday, the fire crews on the Waterton Lake fire do not expect to see much growth.
The fire has led to closures of the Lakeshore trail from Waterton to Boundary Bay, as well as the Bertha Lake trail and Alderson Lake trail. The Boundary Creek, Carthew-Alderson and Summit Lake trails, as well as the Pass Creek Day Use Area, are also closed until further notice.
Firefighters in the Bitterroot National Forest responded to 10 new wildfires that were caused by lightning strikes Friday night. All of those fires were kept under two acres in size, with crews continuing to perform mop-up work on three of them over the course of the day Saturday. More than 1,000 lightning strikes hit the forest Friday, and crews are still scouting for any other fires that may have started.
The Forest Service is still working on the Buck Horn fire to the east of Hamilton in the Sapphire Mountains. High winds and little rain heading into the weekend meant the fire grew to about 50 acres. Twelve firefighters with fire engines and a helicopter were to be joined by a 20-person hand crew on Saturday. They will work to build fire lines to the east and south with the goal of keeping the fire from moving toward Skalkaho Highway. No structures are currently threatened.
To the west of Hamilton, crews are also working on a fire in the upper Canyon Creek area, currently at 17 acres. Because of the steep terrain, 14 firefighters had to be flown into the area, and are being assisted by a helicopter conducting bucket drops. While no buildings are being threatened, fire crews are making it a priority to keep the Canyon Creek fire away from residences.
The Sucker Creek fire to the northeast of Lincoln was first spotted on Aug. 10 and has grown to 2,300 acres. Mandatory evacuations on both sides of Landers Fork at Elk Trail Pass, as well as in the Alice Creek area have been put into effect. Road closures are also part of a evacuation order for the area. No structures are directly threatened by the fire.
Dave Bale's Type 2 incident management team took over the fire on Saturday, adding to the responding crews to bring the firefighter total to 140. The fire sparked five spot fires, which crews are working to put out with the help of bucket drops. Smoke is visible from the fire, and high winds overnight Saturday will continue to affect the fire's behavior.
The American Red Cross has been working to provide disaster relief to people in Montana who have been evacuated by wildfires. A shelter has been established at Lincoln High School, where the Red Cross will give out food, water and supplies to those affected by the Sucker Creek fire. They can also shower or spend the night, free of charge.
In Idaho, fire crews are working on several blazes that make up the Clearwater Complex near Kamiah, with a total of 32,281 acres burning with 774 firefighters working to contain the fires. The Lawyer 2 fire burned to the banks of the Clearwater River across from the town on Friday night. The fire burned several buildings, and evacuations have been put in place for the outskirts of Kamiah. Firefighters are prioritizing structure protection for the complex of fires, which is estimated at 12,981 acres and is 15 percent contained.
While U.S. Highway 12 remains open, a pilot car is moving traffic through the Kamiah area, and drivers should expect delays.
The Fisher fire to the northwest of the Lawyer Complex is at 12,500 acres, around seven miles north of Craigmont, where evacuations have been put in place. Hot weather on Friday led to significant growth in the fire.
Another 3,300-acre fire is burning to the north of Woodland, Idaho. The fire, with 60 personnel attached, made significant runs on Friday, and crews are working to establish a perimeter.
Several lightning-caused fires are causing heavy smoke around the Salmon area. The Elkhorn fire is about 50 acres and is 90 percent contained. The fire is burning to the west of Clear Creek, about three miles from the edge of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Fire managers, along with 57 personnel and a helicopter, are working to suppress the fire because of how close it is to non-wilderness land.
The governor has declared a state of emergency due to the impact of fires in Idaho.
The Bobcat fire, at 30 acres, is north of Napoleon Gulch and about 15 miles north of Salmon. Fire officials are asking the public not to stop along Highway 93 to view the fire.
Most fires located inside wilderness areas are being allowed to burn freely. Other fires were able to be contained within the first day of starting.