Helicopters doing bucket work kept the new Sawtooth fire just outside Hamilton in check Saturday.
“I feel really good about the fires on our forest,” said Tod McKay of the Bitterroot National Forest. “The Mustang is obviously a concern.”
The Mustang Complex fire that started on the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho and spread to the Bitterroot was listed at 210,025 acres Saturday, according to fire information officer Tom Hegele.
Although it was largely quiet Friday night – “it just kind of skunked around in there,” he said – the wind was picking up Saturday afternoon. “That forecasted wind change is due in here any time, so we’ll see,” he said.
Those winds could prove a mixed blessing. The 45 mph gusts expected Saturday evening could help the fire spread, but the wind also could be accompanied by rain. (Check inciweb.org for the most recent information.)
The barest amount of moisture – less than a hundredth of an inch — misted part of the fire Friday night and early Saturday morning, but had no appreciable effect.
Hegele said that no homes have been lost, but an old lookout cabin burned Friday.
While the fire’s southern boundary seemed to be holding, the fire continued to push northeast into the Hughes and Hull creek areas. Hughes Creek remains under Stage 1 evacuation notifications.
“Those are the areas of greatest concern, because it’s pushing over toward (U.S. Highway) 93,” he said. “They’ve been predicting it’s going to hit 93 sometime. They just don’t know when or where.”
About 800 firefighters are on the Mustang complex fire, including 13 hand crews, 60 engines, six dozers, 10 water tenders and two helicopters. The fire is listed at 16 percent contained.
Bitterroot National Forest officials reminded hunters that, as archery and some other seasons began Saturday, Stage 1 fire restrictions on smoking and open fires remain in effect.
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No campfires are permitted at sites lacking a metal fire ring, and smoking is permitted only within enclosed vehicles, buildings, or designated recreation sites, or while stopped in an area cleared of all burnable vegetation for at least three feet.
The 30-acre Sawtooth fire just west of Hamilton, about two miles southwest of the 2010 Downing Mountain fire, was spotted Thursday night. But the bucket work Friday and Saturday kept the fire, burning in an avalanche chute, from growing, McKay said.
“It’s burning in a really, really steep, rocky, remote, inaccessible area, so there’s no crews,” he said. Two people are in the area doing lookout work for the helicopters, he said.
Trail No. 123, the Sawtooth Creek Trail, remains closed.
Elsewhere in western Montana, firefighters completed a successful burn Friday on the south and east flanks of the Elevation Mountain fire 10 miles southwest of Ovando. The 865-acre fire was considered 40 percent contained Saturday.
Some 13 miles north of Ovando, the 1,247-acre Wedge Creek fire continued to send up several plumes of smoke, something attributed to the rocky terrain that breaks up places where the fire can burn. Mostly, that fire is “creeping and smoldering,” according to the InciWeb.
Helicopters and scoopers continued to drop water on the 10-acre Dart fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, overseen by 33 firefighters.
And 25 miles east of Condon, also in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Prisoner Lake fire continued to smolder in about 4,000 acres.
Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, email@example.com, or @CopsAndCourts.