One party's sloppy campfire management put 90 firefighters to work on Tuesday, as much of western Montana raised its fire danger warning to "high."

The Seigel fire burned about 65 acres in the steep hillsides above Highway 135 about 1 1/2 miles south of Quinn's Hot Springs. Motorists and floaters on the Clark Fork River were warned to beware of smoke and aircraft in the area.

"We've got heavy smoke, possibly falling rock and helicopters dipping water in the river across the highway," said Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District information officer Julie Molzahn. "There's a lot of stuff moving around."

Hotshot crews from the Lolo, Flathead and Idaho Panhandle national forests joined ground crews from the Lolo and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal fire teams to build containment lines around the blaze Tuesday afternoon. But the terrain is so steep, Molzahn said, that most personnel will be withdrawn after darkness falls. The fire will be monitored by two fire engine crews overnight.

Forest Service roads 412 and 5572 have been closed until fire activity subsides. One single-engine tanker plane and three helicopters are assisting the ground crews.

Staff members at the nearby Camp Bighorn spotted the first smoke on Monday afternoon. Molzahn said Forest Service officials are seeking information about who left the campfire burning Saturday night or Sunday morning at a dispersed campsite a quarter-mile up the Seigel Mountain road. Anyone with a tip can call (406) 826-3821.

Safe campfires are still allowed in national forests when fire danger reaches high level, but all other outdoor burning is prohibited. Last weekend's hot and dry weather cured out much of the grass and brush in forests and meadows.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

 

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