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Schwarzenegger at Superior fire

Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger posted this photo after visiting the West Mullan fire on Monday and spending time on the fire line with the Snake River Hot Shots.

SUPERIOR – Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined a Hot Shot crew on the lines of the West Mullan fire Monday morning as night-shift firefighters reported strong progress in the hills northwest of Superior.

The Hollywood star and a film crew visited the fire as part of a documentary he’s producing on climate change. Fire information officer Pat McKelvey said Schwarzenegger attended the morning incident command briefing before heading into the woods.

“They’ll finish their shoot today and be gone,” McKelvey said. “This is a national contract they’ve been working out for several months with the Snake River Hot Shots.”

The elite 20-person Snake River crew was one of 11 Hot Shot teams working on the West Mullan fire, which had burned 6,169 acres as of Monday. While no homes or buildings have been damaged and evacuation orders have been lifted in and around Superior, the fire did get close enough to a BPA power line to force a shutdown of electricity transmission for about four and a half hours on Sunday.

“We’ve had two full night shifts and they were really successful,” McKelvey said. “They got the line extended to Keystone Creek beyond Pardee Creek. We’ve been fighting that for two burn periods now.”

The main hot spots now burn on the fire’s western edge along Keystone Creek and the Wood Gulch area on the northeastern perimeter. Fire crews were able to build defensive lines around a federal Superfund site in Flat Creek north of Superior, and the fire burned around it without damaging any of the work area, McKelvey said.

“We didn’t run any heavy air tankers Sunday, and we have no requests for today,” McKelvey said. “We’re actually starting in some places along town picking up stuff and doing backhaul.”

However, fire weather officers reported that a general increase of 1 or 2 mph wind speed could have a big impact on fire behavior – even worse than intermittent gusts of 10 mph. That could change conditions on the high-elevation ridgetops where the fire has been most active, including the threatened timber along Baldy Hill.

A batch plant has been set up at the Big Eddy fishing access site to allow helicopters to load fire retardant instead of water. Three heavy and two medium helicopters remain attached to the fire command, which now has 925 personnel. The cost to date is $5.8 million.

The Red Cross closed its evacuation shelter in Superior on Monday after the last evacuation orders around town were lifted. Its disaster response team remains on standby if the situation changes, according to Red Cross communications director Anna Fernandez-Gevaert.

Area closures include Iron Mountain Trail 242 from above Cascade Falls to the junction with Forest Service Road 97 and the Ninemile Divide Trail, as well as the Vista Trail north of Superior. The Clark Fork River between Big Eddy and Sloway Campground remains closed to floating and public access for water dipping operations.

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In other fire news, the Gold Creek fire 17 miles north of Missoula remained at 170 acres and was 55 percent contained by Monday afternoon.

“We’re looking at a July 25 date for full containment if the crews keep making good progress,” said fire information officer Mariah Leuschen. “Along the western flank, they’re mopping up into the interior of the fire, and they’re coming around the northern side to secure both perimeter lines.”

Crews have been using portable water tanks filled from Gold Creek to take hoses directly to the fire’s hotspots, Leuschen said. The goals are to keep the fire out of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe’s Jocko Lakes Primitive Area (less than a quarter-mile to the north of the fire) and to protect timberlands belonging to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. All three agencies are cooperating on the fire management.

“With the weather coming in this early in the season, respective agencies thought it was a good idea to bring the full Type II team in,” Leuschen said of the full-suppression tactics. “We’ve still got a lot of hot weather ahead of us.”

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In Idaho, several small fires continue to burn in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. A team of four rappellers and six district firefighters responded to a quarter-acre blaze in the Red River Ranger District near Orogrande. A medium-load helicopter was helping them with water drops.

The Nut Hill fire had no new growth on Monday and remains about 4 acres. Two Hot Shot teams remain on the scene, but other firefighters have been released, according to fire spokeswoman Laura Smith.

Small fires in the Moose Creek District of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness include the California Point fire, Bailey Creek fire and Moose Creek fire. The Glover fire was reported contained on Sunday. No new fires were reported on the North Fork, Powell or Lochsa ranger districts on Monday.

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Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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