Flames from the Goat Creek wildfire crept to within 200 yards of several homes in the Rock Creek area east of Missoula on Friday as the Granite County Sheriff’s Office stood by to help with evacuation notices and pre-evacuation warnings for area residents.
Those notices apply to homes between mile markers 5 and 13 on Rock Creek Road. A long portion of the road is limited to local traffic only from just south of Interstate 90 to the upper portion at about mile marker 45. People wanting to fish the popular and scenic creek were being turned back in droves.
The lightning-caused Goat Creek blaze was up to 443 acres as of Friday afternoon and burned about one mile east of Rock Creek Road and about six miles south of I-90. The fire was driven by strong and gusty winds, including some sustained gusts of over 25 miles per hour, which caused sheriff’s deputies to issue a “red” mandatory evacuation notice for residences in the Brewster Creek area.
A “yellow” evacuation warning, meaning residents must be on stand-by, was issued to other homeowners in the area. Fire information officer Kale Casey said he wasn’t sure how many residences were affected by evacuations or warnings.
“It was a little mini-blowup on Thursday night,” he said.
On Friday, several homeowners stood on their decks watching the blaze creep through the forested hills.
The Clinton Rural Fire Department, the Missoula Rural Fire Department, the Montana Department of Natural Resource Conservation and U.S. Forest Service fire suppression resources are staffing the fire, including two Hotshot crews and several engines. Several airplanes are assigned to the fire, as well as helicopter bucket operations. A total of 70 people are working on the fire.
The weather didn't help Friday, as a dry cold front continued to pass through the area, which resulted in breezy winds from the southwest and hot and dry fire weather conditions. A red flag warning was in effect for western Montana through Friday night, meaning low humidity and gusty winds could create erratic fire behavior and potential new fire starts.
Granite County Sheriff Scott Dunkerson said he hadn’t heard of any injuries or structures catching fire as of Friday morning. He was on scene with several of his deputies. The fire is burning in the Lolo National Forest, and a Northern Rockies Type 2 Incident Management Team is managing resources assigned to the blaze.
A community meeting concerning the Goat Creek Fire was set for 7 p.m. Friday at the Clinton Fire Department, 12300 U.S. Highway 10 East in Clinton.
Casey said that the meeting was designed for fire managers to give a broad overview of the fire’s behavior and planned responses, and for officials to answer any questions.
The nearby Little Hogback fire, burning about 27 miles southeast of Missoula and nine miles south of Beavertail Pond, had reached 1,719 acres by Friday morning, driven to the east by wind and high temperatures. That fire is about 5 percent contained.
Crews used Friday to gather intelligence, and air resources monitored the fire.
The 347-acre Sliderock fire nearby advanced to the east but did not create any areas of concern on Thursday.
Another blazed called the Sunrise fire, about 10 miles south of Superior on the Ninemile Ranger District, was pushed to an estimated 482 acres by Friday afternoon. It was zero percent contained, and homes located along Quartz Creek received an evacuation warning. A community meeting will be held at the Lozeau Lodge Pavilion at 7 p.m. on Saturday, which can be reached by Exit 55 on Interstate 90.