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Lightning sets six fires on Bitterroot Forest
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Lightning sets six fires on Bitterroot Forest

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Fire danger 'very high' in Bitterroot forest

The entire Welcome Creek Wilderness is now closed to the public after the lightning-caused Cinnabar fire grew to an estimated 2,000 acres Monday on the Lolo National Forest.

An early morning lightning storm touched off six fires in the Bitterroot National Forest on Thursday.

Firefighters were either on the scene of the fires or en route Thursday morning, said Bitterroot National Forest Fire Management Officer Mark Wilson.

Four of the fires were in the Sapphire Mountains on the east side of the valley. The other two were on the west side — one near Lake Como and the second in the remote Whitecap drainage on the forest’s West Fork District.

Wilson said all of the fires were less than a quarter-acre.

Some were burning in remote areas that required firefighters to either hike or be transported by helicopter. A crew of four firefighters rappelled to the area near the Mount George Fire in the Whitecap area. Firefighters were able to drive to a couple of the fires in the Sapphire Mountains.

Wilson said last night’s storm brought a little bit of precipitation with it north of Corvallis, but not much rain fell on the southern half of the national forest.

There were reports from the public of smoke in the Tin Cup area west of Darby, but Wilson said that fire has not been confirmed yet.

Wilson said there could be additional fires that show themselves as the day warms.

At this point, none of the fires are threatening any structures.

A second round of lightning storms is expected later Thursday. That storm is expected to be a mixture of wet and dry storms, with some outflow winds.

Currently, fire danger on the Bitterroot Forest is nearing the very high rating.

Wilson said fire conditions on the forest are nearing the 90th percentile. That means that only 10% of the days have been drier in the last 10 years.

“The 90th percentile is a big threshold for us,” he said.

At this point, Wilson said the Bitterroot Forest is in good shape as far as firefighting resources.

“The good thing today is there isn’t much going on,” he said. “We’re not expecting any shortage of getting what we need right now… We’re staffed really heavy right now. Our Hot Shot crew is expected to be back tomorrow.”

That could change quickly. The Lolo National Forest also received some lightning early Thursday.

Wilson encourages the public to keep their eyes peeled for new smoke. Before calling 911, he suggested they check the Ravalli County Sheriff’s app to see if the fire has already been reported.

“The biggest help we can get from the public right now is for them to continue to be careful with their campfires,” he said. “With the grass drying out, they should also be careful where they park when they leave the road.”

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