The Missoula County Fire Protection Association downgraded the local fire danger from “extreme” to “very high” on Tuesday.
“Today’s announcement does not signal an end to fire season,” MCFPA spokesman Chris Johnson wrote in an email. “Until we get widespread wetting rains, conditions will persist under which wind-driven fires will quickly spread.
Residents along Duncan Drive last Friday bore witness to that fact. Were it not for a rapid, interagency response and availability of air resources, homes could have been lost.”
The grass fire above Duncan Drive burned about 80 acres of Missoula city open space. A sky full of helicopters and single-engine air tankers along with city fire department and wildland firefighters stopped it before it could reach houses along the west side of Duncan Drive.
Stage I fire restrictions remain in place on city, county and most other public lands across western Montana. While federal wilderness areas are exempt from those rules, backcountry users and hunters should remember to make sure their fires are thoroughly doused and cool to the touch before being left unattended.
High humidity and lower temperatures allowed firefighters at the Lolo Creek Complex to reduce their force to a Type 3 team on Tuesday, responsible for mop-up and rehabilitation work on the 10,902-acre fire along U.S. Highway 12. Personnel reduced from 463 to 247.
In the Rock Creek drainage, the Harry’s Flat fire continued to burn Tuesday in grass and scattered timber in very steep terrain.
Boyd Hartwig, a spokesman for the Lolo National Forest, said the fire backed down south-facing hillsides overnight, and has burned 250 acres in the Welcome Creek Wilderness.
On Tuesday, firefighters worked to keep the fire’s growth north of Cinnamon Bear Creek and were building hand line as needed. Helicopters helped with bucket drops, Hartwig said.
The Missoula Ranger District has closed Harry’s Flat campground for public safety. Some dispersed camping spots near the fire also are closed.
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Hartwig said the fire is growing toward remote areas to the north and west, away from structures and private property. Most of the fire behavior is creeping and smoldering ground fire, with occasional single- and group-tree torching.
South of Darby, the Gold Pan Complex fire grew by 144 acres by Tuesday’s accounting, reaching 42,463 acres in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay said the most active areas were in the Blue Joint drainage around Jack the Ripper Creek, where the fire remains about three miles southwest of Bare Cone Lookout.
The fire moved across the Idaho border into Montana last week, burning about 3,210 acres in Ravalli County south of Nez Perce Pass.
The nearby Nez Peak fire remained stable at 1,276 acres. About 80 personnel backed up with seven engines, three helicopters and other heavy equipment continue to work along the Magruder Corridor, removing snags and improving safety conditions.
Another fire in Idaho, called the Nez Perce fire, is burning about 300 acres about four miles east of Gibbonsville. A Type 3 team with 80 firefighters and three helicopters has been assigned since it started on Friday. The fire has closed parts of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail from Big Hole Pass to Highway 43.
The Beaver Creek fire near Pintlar Lake in the Wisdom Ranger District has burned about 75 acres and has a wildland fire team of 25 assigned, along with two helicopters.
It has forced the closure of a portion of the Continental Divide Scenic Trail through the Pintlar Mountain range, as well as Pintler Trail 203, Beaver Creek Trail 3368 and Mystic Trail 3369. The Continental Divide and Pintler campgrounds remain open.