Initial attack crews chased a sprinkling of new small fires Wednesday, all stemming from an afternoon thunderstorm that blew across western Montana a day earlier.
The Lolo National Forest reported eight starts Tuesday evening and three more Wednesday, according to spokesman Boyd Hartwig. Three of the Tuesday fires were on the Missoula Ranger District, one on the Ninemile District and four were on the Seeley Lake Ranger District. Hartwig said all were staffed and most were contained at less than a quarter acre by Wednesday afternoon.
Four smokejumpers were dispatched to the Shoo Fly fire a mile south of Mineral Peak in the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula. It was reported to be less than one-tenth of an acre. The Granite Creek fire near Lolo Pass had burned about one acre and drawn two fire engines, five firefighters and a helicopter to suppress it. The Gillman Creek fire about eight miles south of Huson had burned one-tenth of an acre, and four smokejumpers were on the way Wednesday afternoon to confront it.
The West Garceau fire on the Flathead Indian Reservation has burned 9,863 acres and was reported 65 percent contained Wednesday, according to Flathead Agency spokeswoman Jennifer Costich. It has 319 firefighters engaged.
In the Swan Valley, the Condon Mountain fire continued to frustrate a crew of 120 firefighters trying to cool its hot spots in the Dog Creek and Condon Creek drainages. Spokesman Tom Kempton said crews had laid sprinklers along some of the more dangerous parts.
“The crews hike in during the morning to refuel the pumps, get them up and running, and then get out before the heat of the day and the fire activity picks up,” Kempton said. “Because of the steep and heavy terrain, they won’t be able to go and completely extinguish this thing until snow flies.”
The fire has burned 1,700 acres and is 30 percent contained.
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation firefighters hunted down several new starts Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, according to spokeswoman Cindy Super. The Elevation Mountain fire north of Drummond was burning 10 to 20 acres along the McElwain Fire Road. The Mount Henry East fire was contained at one acre east of Seeley Lake, while the Lower Marshall fire was in patrol status at one-tenth of an acre northeast of Seeley Lake.
A DNRC crew was hiking to a spot fire on Wisherd Ridge east of the Rattlesnake Wilderness. Its size was undetermined on Wednesday afternoon.
Toward Ovando, the Wedge Creek fire grew to 555 acres and slopped over the east slope of Fenn Mountain. No crews were engaged on Wednesday, although monitors in helicopters watched to ensure it didn’t threaten any new areas.
In the Bitterroot National Forest, lookouts are keeping watch on nine fires in wilderness areas, but only one has caused enough trouble to demand a ground response.
A team of eight firefighters has set up structure protection on the North Star Ranch to defend against the 4,077-acre Ditch fire, which recently slopped over the Idaho border from the Nez Perce National Forest. Near the Magruder Road corridor, the Cabin Springs fire has burned 1,680 acres and the Salamander fire has burned 900 acres. Neither fire has personnel involved.
Also in the Bitterroot, the Indian Ridge fire has burned 344 acres two miles north of Salmon Base Camp. The Burnt Strip fire has burned 177 acres about two miles northeast of Indian Ridge. The Green Mountain fire has burned 238 acres one mile north of Indian Ridge. Watchtower Lake fire has burned 25 acres two miles north of Watchtower Lake, mostly on the Idaho side of the border. The Hamilton fire has burned 120 acres about 3 1/2 miles west of the Salmon Mountain Lookout.
Bitterroot Forest spokesman Tod McKay said the mountains of western Montana and Idaho got 1,449 lightning strikes out of Tuesday’s thunderstorms.
“We’re anticipating having some holdover fires pop up soon,” McKay said Wednesday. “And that Mustang fire is almost 100,000 acres just to the southwest of us. So we’re in for some smoky days.”
The Mustang fire is one of three large blazes in Idaho that have pumped smoke into the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys. The Halstead fire has burned about 93,000 acres in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, and the Trinity Ridge fire east of Boise has burned 97,457 acres.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com.