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Battling the Heat

A firefighter takes a break to cool off while fighting a house fire on West Riverside Driver near Bonner Friday afternoon. Temperatures reached a record 104 degrees in Missoula, according to the National Weather Service.

For the record, we broke the record.

An overlay of smoke kept temperatures off record pace in Missoula most of Friday, but with a late-afternoon surge we nosed out 1928.

Ninety years ago the mercury topped out at 102 on Aug. 10. In 2018, at 5:41 p.m., Corby Dickerson of the National Weather Service tweeted the official temperature at the National Weather Service station was 104.

That was just 1 degree off the all-time August high set on Aug. 4, 1961, President John F. Kennedy’s first year in office. Missoula's hottest day remains the 107 degrees established on July 6, 2007.

It was hotter than that Friday in Sanders County, where the thermometer reached 108 degrees at Plains and Thompson Falls. It was 101 at 2:55 p.m., when a fire broke out near Highway 200 seven miles northwest of Plains.

The fire threatened several homes, and a number of helicopters were quickly on the scene making bucket drops from the nearby Clark Fork River, according to the Sanders County Wildland Fire Information Facebook page. More air and ground support were on the way.

Initial estimates set the Weeksville fire's size at 40 acres. It was burning west of Weeksville Creek and north of Highway 200 on U.S. Forest Service and private land. 

Kalispell set its own record for Aug. 10 a couple of hours earlier when it reached 100 degrees at Glacier Park International Airport. That rose to 102 by 4:45 p.m., easily eclipsing the old mark of 99 degrees set in 2003.

It was Missoula’s first 100-degree day since July 8, 2017, and the 49th since observations began in 1893.

That 102-degree reading in 1928 was front page news.

“Missoula lay somnolent beneath an unaccustomed heat blanket that was conductive to lethary (sic), and, in the cases of those who were compelled to move rapidly, short tempers,” the Missoulian observed.

On Friday, earth movers and other heavy equipment sat quietly at street sides around town, as road construction projects were all but abandoned by 3:30 p.m.

“We did shut down a little early, partially because of the heat,” said Mike Eichner of Knife River, which has active projects at the Van Buren Interchange, Russell Street, ADA sidewalk and curb projects along Stephens and Gerald, and at a new phase of construction at the Ranch Club off Mullan Road.

Medics on the scene of a house fire in West Riverside near Bonner kept busy handing water to firefighters to keep them hydrated.

The Montana Grizzlies football team, practicing in the heat of the afternoon, took frequent water breaks under Coach Bobby Hauck’s direction.

Dickerson said it looks like an incoming cold front won’t be arriving as early as expected on Saturday. Temperatures should reach the mid- to high 90s and “might even flirt with 100,” he said.

By Sunday, Missoula and much of western Montana should be down in the more comfortable and usual range of the 80s. The front moving in later Saturday should improve air quality and visibility, though the winds could stir up wildfires in the region, two of which have grown to more than 2,500 acres (the Garden Creek fire near Hot Springs) and 1,000 acres (the Brownstone fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness) in the dry, hot weather.

Friday and Saturday will likely be western Montana’s final fling with 100 degrees for the year. Dickerson said the nights are getting longer, “so climatologically speaking it gets increasingly harder to produce this amount of heat.”

The latest 100-degree temperature recorded was on Aug. 24, 1969, a month or so after the first moon landing.

***

Despite the threat of continued heat, the National Weather Service held fast to its expiration date of a heat advisory at 9 p.m. Friday.

A red flag warning went into effect at noon Friday and remains in effect until midnight Saturday for much of western and southwestern Montana. Critical fire weather conditions are possible again Sunday afternoon and evening due to winds and low humidity.

A Haines Index of 6 was in place Friday, even before the anticipated winds of 15-25 mph blow in Saturday. A 6 means a high potential for an existing fire to become large or exhibit erratic fire behavior. Anything less than 4 means low potential.

Fire danger throughout most of western Montana remains at the highest level of Extreme. Stage II restrictions went into effect Friday at a minute past midnight in Missoula, Missoula County, three national forests and parts of several other counties. It bans open burning and smoking in public places, and restricts the use of combustible engines such as lawnmowers.

***

The city of Missoula announced Friday that Mount Sentinel will be closed down for the Pearl Jam concert Monday night.

The Missoula Fire Department, in partnership with the University of Montana, has petitioned the city and state to close public lands on Sentinel from 8 a.m. Monday to 8 a.m. Tuesday due to extreme fire danger and Stage II fire restrictions.

The Pearl Jam concert is set for 7 p.m. Monday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The hillside has traditionally been a popular venue for watching or listening to stadium events for free.

The closure includes the “M” Trail, trails from the Sentinel Fire Road and Pattee Canyon Drive, and trails from the Kim Williams Natural Area. University officials say patrols will be in place and trespassers could be removed and ticketed.

***

The Garden Creek fire, burning mostly on the Flathead Indian Reservation near Hot Springs, was mapped Friday at 2,573 acres, another 700 acres larger than previous report.

Fire activity was increasing as the red flag warning took effect in the afternoon and the temperature reached triple digits.

There are 235 fire personnel assigned to the incident, which continues to be managed by a local Type 3 Incident Management Team.

The Brownstone fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness grew to 1,086 acres after it moved south through most of upper Brownstone Creek and a high- elevation bowl at the head of Francois Creek, away from the South Fork of the White River. Additional growth was expected Friday.

As a wilderness fire, the Brownstone isn’t being fought. Ground and aerial resources are monitoring it, and equipment is in place at the Big Prairie Work Center if it comes down a draw toward the South Fork of the Flathead River.

The center is a major center of Forest Service operations in the South Fork area. Corrals, dispersed campsite and several structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places are located at the center.

The Tenmile fire south of Eureka was listed at 677 acres and 22 percent contained Friday morning.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian