The perimeter of the Thompson fire in Glacier National Park now encircles a basin big enough to hold metropolitan Kalispell after an explosive run between Monday and Tuesday.
“There was some activity today with high temperatures and low humidity,” Glacier spokeswoman Katelyn Liming said Wednesday afternoon. “We expect to see some increase in acreage. It’s moving east and it’s close to the Continental Divide. We’re really working to keep it west of the divide.”
Liming said a Type 2 management team was taking over responsibility for the fire Thursday, which should bring more firefighting resources to bear. However, she added that the steep terrain and high fire activity makes it unsafe for ground personnel to operate there.
Park officials estimate the Thompson fire at 14,900 acres in a remote southern zone between Lake McDonald and Two Medicine Lake.
Helicopter pilots are dropping water to restrain the fire’s spread toward the more-traveled Cut Bank and Red Eagle drainages to the east. Steep, rocky terrain has limited the ability of ground crews to confront the fire.
Several popular trails out of the Two Medicine, Cut Bank and Walton areas have been closed as the fire spreads close to the Continental Divide. They include the high portion between Dawson and Pitamakin passes, Medicine Grizzly Lake, Triple Divide Pass and Upper Two Medicine Lake. Trail status reports are available at 1.usa.gov/1h646jB.
Outside Glacier Park, state and federal firefighters made good progress Wednesday subduing numerous lightning-strike blazes throughout western Montana and the Idaho Panhandle.
The Northern Rockies area was elevated from sixth priority nationally to third priority for firefighting resources, as continued hot temperatures and strong winds dominated the forecasts.
Near Missoula, state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation crews were working on the 23-acre Scotty Brown fire near Ovando, the 25-acre Sunflower fire in the Gold Creek drainage and the eight-acre Gold Creek fire in the Blackfoot Recreation Corridor.
The last one had a crew of 60 assigned to it on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, while the Scotty Brown fire had about 40 personnel backed up with a helicopter and some heavy equipment.
Lolo National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig said 22 new fires were reported between Tuesday and Wednesday, mainly around Thompson Falls, Plains and Superior.
A dozen of those were reported contained by Wednesday afternoon. All the remaining fires were less than an acre in size and were all staffed with firefighters.
The Sucker Creek fire near Lincoln has been doing much of its burning within its own perimeter as a 60-person crew assembled to fight it.
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“One thing to note about this fire is it’s a ‘spotty’ type fire, meaning it’s not burning all fuel in a specific area before it moves to another area,” Helena National Forest spokeswoman Kathy Bushnell said. “There are large amounts of unburned fuel within that estimated fire size of 50 to 100 acres. So the movement of the fire is two-fold: within the current perimeter, as well as moving generally northeast toward the 2003 Snow-Talon fire area.”
In the Bitterroot National Forest, spotters reported 18 new fires Tuesday, with all but four contained by Wednesday. About 30 firefighters are detailed to the remaining four, all of which are less than a quarter-acre in size.
However, radar scans recorded more than 400 lightning strikes in the forest after Monday’s thunderstorm. Crews will continue to monitor forest conditions looking for new starts.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho reported 54 new wildfires after Monday’s thunderstorm, bringing its total to more than 150 active fires.
“Friday is expected to be a critical fire day,” forest spokeswoman Rae Brooks said in an email. “Then a cold front will move through the area, dropping temperatures by 15 to 20 degrees.”
North Idaho’s toughest fires were concentrated around Kamiah, Pilot Knob, Syringa and Lolo Creek, with at least 25 burning near Kamiah and the same number near Pilot Knob. One smokejumper on the Big Hill fire suffered a broken femur on landing and was airlifted to a hospital in Lewiston for treatment.
A bigger Type 1 team will be in place Thursday, helping to manage fires in the Kamiah area.
A Type 2 command team also will be in place Thursday to a new start burning seven miles north of Craigmont in the upper reaches of Big Canyon Creek. The Fisher fire has grown to about 700 acres since being confirmed early Wednesday morning.
The Lochsa Ranger District reported 23 new fires, and firefighters had to pull back from the Big Hill and Syringa fires because of extreme activity. Two others were controlled and two were contained Tuesday, Brooks said.
The North Fork Ranger District reported 11 new fires, with at least two controlled by Wednesday. A major prescribed burning project scheduled for this week to improve elk habitat has been canceled until conditions calm down.
The Moose Creek Ranger District had 13 new fires on Wednesday, with at least two under control. The Powell Ranger District reported three new fires and crews were investigating a possible fourth.
The Salmon Ranger District had one new fire, and had to pull back some of its personnel from the Pilot Knob fire because of increased activity. The Red River Ranger District reported three new fires, while two of its older blazes were controlled and three were contained.