Westfork Fire

A wildfire consumes a tree in this file photo. 

Lightning started two fires Tuesday in remote locations on the West Fork Ranger District in the Bitterroot Valley.

The largest is the Reynolds Lake Fire, which measured 11 acres Wednesday morning but grew substantially due to gusty winds in the afternoon.

The fire is burning on the border of the Bitterroot and Salmon-Challis National Forest near the Reynolds Lake Trail, which is about 10 miles southwest of Painted Rocks Lakes.

"It's as far south as you can go on the Bitterroot National Forest before crossing into Idaho," said Bitterroot Forest spokesperson Tod McKay.

Currently, there are 30 firefighters from the West Fork District, Bitterroot Helitack and Bitterroot Hotshots assigned to the fire, which is burning in rugged terrain in heavy fuels.

Multiple aircraft are assisting with the fire, including two heavy tankers dropping 5,000 gallon load of retardant and a heavy helicopter dumping water.

A DC-10 capable of dropping 12,000 gallons of retardant from Moses Lake, Washington, will also assist in the firefighting effort.

"That should be very visible when it makes its drop," McKay said at about 3:20 p.m. Wednesday. "As about an hour ago, ground crews disengaged. The conditions were just too dangerous. … The area is littered with snags and lots of dead heavy timber."

The crews are operating under a full suppression strategy. As of Wednesday afternoon, zero percent of the fire was considered contained.

A 20-member Hotshot Crew and 20-person initial attack crew are en route to assist with the firefighting effort.

A weak weather disturbance will move through the area Wednesday with sustained westerly winds of 20 to 25 mph and gusts up to 35 mph.

There are no structures near the fire.

A second fire of a tenth of an acre was discovered near Haystack Mountain in the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho, one mile west of the Magruder Ranger Station. That fire was contained by two firefighters Wednesday morning.

Both were spotted by fire lookouts Tuesday following a storm that blew through Monday night.

Fire danger was raised to high on the Bitterroot National Forest Wednesday.

When fire danger is high, fires will start from most causes. Once started, the fires will spread rapidly and short-distance spotting is common. All fine fuels ignite rapidly. Uncontrolled campfires are likely to escape.

Fires may become serious and their control difficult unless they are hit hard and fast while small.

Open burning closed in Ravalli County last week due to increased fire risks.

McKay said Bitterroot Forest officials have been planning on upgrading the fire danger to high this week due to grasses drying out in the lower elevations.

"This fire is burning in high elevation subalpine fir," he said. "It's a good sign that even at the higher elevations, things are dry and very receptive to fire."

Fire officials remind visitors and recreationists to be extremely careful with anything that can cause a spark, including dragging chains on campers. People should ensure that all campfires are dead by adding water and stirring dirt into the hot coals until cold to the touch. If a campfire is still hot to the touch, it’s not safe to leave it.

Bitterroot Forest firefighters have responded to four lightning caused wildfires so far this summer.

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