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Bitterroot fire crews corralling blazes ahead of predicted high winds
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Bitterroot fire crews corralling blazes ahead of predicted high winds

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Crews on a handful of small wildfires on the Bitterroot National Forest worked Tuesday to corral the fires ahead of a cold front forecast to bring high winds on Thursday.

Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay said initial attack efforts on a number of small incidents across the forest have been successful, and crews were beginning to demobilize on the Chrandal Creek fire, which remains at 2,500 acres and is 75 percent contained.

“Initial attack has been really successful,” McKay said. “The timing of the resources, when we really needed them, was real positive.”

On Tuesday afternoon, McKay said the Bitterroot Forest was staffing three active fires scattered between Sula and Stevensville. All three of the fires were sparked by lightning and none were more than three acres in size.

“We’ve had 38 fires this summer, 32 started by lighting and six by humans,” McKay said. “The human-caused were all abandoned campfires, but that was early on. We haven’t seen that in the last week and half.”

The timing of the fires, including the Chrandal Creek fire, which started east of Darby in early July, has played in the favor of the Bitterroot National Forest. At the time, resources were still available as fire activity on Montana’s western forests had yet to pick up.

But that has changed in recent days, with three fires on the Lolo National Forest showing a potential for growth, along with several others reported on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

“I think things picked up from a regional perspective Monday,” said McKay. “As far as we’re sitting today with the three fires, we’re doing fine. Cleary, if we get more storms and more starts, it could be a concern fairly quickly.”

Leona Rodreick, spokeswoman for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, reported six fires burning across the Anaconda-Pintler region. The Rabbit Creek fire, located on the Wisdom Ranger District, was the largest at 11 acres and was 60 percent contained Tuesday.

The other five fires were less than one acre in size, Rodreick said.

While the fires across the state’s western region remained relatively small, fire managers expressed concern Tuesday about an approaching cold front. Expected to arrive on Thursday, it could bring high winds, helping the fires grow.

“I do know there’s a cold front predicted on Thursday with pretty significant winds,” McKay said. “On Crandal Creek, they’re trying to get things buttoned up. Winds are the next thing we’re focused on.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260 or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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