Mop-up was underway Tuesday on two small fires that crews contained on Mount Jumbo shortly after their detection late Monday night and possibly early Tuesday. Another fire was detected in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area on Tuesday, according to authorities.
On Mount Jumbo, interagency crews held the fires to roughly one-tenth of an acre and were patrolling them Tuesday, but the public continues to have access to the area, said Jordan Koppen, public relations specialist with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
"They've been contained and controlled," Koppen said. "They got a good handle on them."
He said a Clearwater unit was chasing smoke 10 miles west of Placid Lake and some fire detection flights were taking place Tuesday as well.
In the Rattlesnake, a lightning-strike fire of one-half to one acre was discovered smoldering and burning roughly 4.5 miles up the Rattlesnake main corridor on the south side of the creek, according to the Lolo National Forest. A smoke report from the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area prompted a detection flight to investigate.
"The Lolo Interagency Hotshots are currently responding to the fire, which has been named the Beeskove fire," the Lolo National Forest said Tuesday afternoon on its Facebook page.
"Additionally, a helicopter will assist the firefighters with water bucket drops to cool hot spots within the fire perimeter."
The agency said there were no trail closures in place Tuesday afternoon, and the fire was not threatening any structures or infrastructure. However, the Forest Service asked the public to remain clear of the area and refrain from reporting the smoke because firefighters were responding to the burn.
A storm rumbled and sparked through the area late Monday, but National Weather Service meteorologist Corby Dickerson said Tuesday the number of lightning strikes that hit the ground was relatively low compared to activity in the clouds.
"Last night's storm, albeit very impressive with lightning, only had about 100 down strikes in between Missoula, the Bitterroot and Seeley-Swan," said Dickerson, in Missoula.
In fact, he said only several dozen lightning strikes hit the ground in Missoula and the Bitterroot. He said most of the lightning was cloud-to-cloud, sheet lightning and pulses.
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Tuesday morning, Kate Jerman, acting public affairs officer with the Lolo National Forest, said fire starts could be smoldering, and the agency was being proactive. Subsequently, the agency identified the Beeskove fire after a detection flight.
Jerman said it wasn't unusual for trees struck by lighting to smolder for up to two weeks before smoke becomes visible. The agency staffs four lookouts across the forest and schedules regular detection flights.
"We are just remaining vigilant and checking things as they get called into us," Jerman said.
Jerman also said the public's eyes are helpful in seeing smoke, and she asked people to call 829-7070 with reports of possible burns.
In addition to the new burn in the Rattlesnake, she said firefighters continued to work on a small fire discovered Monday roughly 21 miles east of Missoula. She said firefighters hiked up a mountainside to tackle the Valley of the Moon fire, a holdover from a lightning strike last week and less than a quarter of an acre.
"They were working yesterday and today to contain that fire with the help of a helicopter," Jerman said Tuesday. "The helicopter was delivering tools to them and also doing water bucket drops as needed to cool hot spots."
In July to date, she counted eight fires caused by people and 10 caused by lightning, with the majority of them less than 3 acres (see chart). She said firefighters have been able to catch and contain the fires within one to three days, but she urged the public to remain cautious and diligent, especially in putting out campfires.
"Fuels are drying out and … more susceptible to fires," Jerman said.
The weather will stay hot the next few days, according to the National Weather Service. The Missoula forecast called for a chance of showers and thunderstorms in the evening and then highs around 82 on Wednesday, 87 on Thursday, and 92 on Friday.