A dry lightning storm on Wednesday had sparked several small fires in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys by Thursday.
The largest new fire was burning in steep timbered hills between Frenchtown and Missoula on Thursday. A crew of 16 smokejumpers flew in Thursday afternoon, followed by more firefighters who hiked into the roadless Rock Creek drainage.
The fire had burned between five and 10 acres by Thursday afternoon, according to Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokeswoman Paula Short.
"The big thing is there's no road system there," Short said. "That area got hammered by lightning Wednesday night. It grew to between five and 10 acres fairly quickly."
A pair of helicopters were expected to join the fight by Thursday afternoon. Columns of smoke could be seen from Interstate 90.
Fires are typically named for the closest map landmark. Unfortunately, there's a Rock Creek in the Fish Creek drainage near Alberton, as well as the blue-ribbon trout stream by that name east of Missoula. This Fish Creek runs parallel to Albert Creek into the Clark Fork River directly west of the Smurfit-Stone Container mill.
Afternoon winds bedeviled fire crews with gusts of up to 40 mph. The winds were forecast to drop after midnight on Thursday, but Friday and the weekend are expected to see a spike in temperature up to the 90s.
Bitterroot National Forest officials reported nine new starts on Thursday. Most were still less than a tenth of an acre. Four were extinguished and one was declared controlled by Thursday afternoon, while four others were still occupying fire crews into the evening.
On the Siegel Creek fire south of Paradise, crews were burning out ground fuels between their containment lines and the main fire. The fire covered 114 acres in steep terrain near Quinn's Hot Springs along Highway 135. A Type III incident management team with 132 people was confronting the fire, backed up by two helicopters and a single-engine tanker plane.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.