Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) As if the mushroom cloud swelling north of Missoula Tuesday night wasn’t enough of a hint, Missoula was shrouded in light yellow haze Wednesday morning, an indication that excessive heat has recharged local wildfires.

As temperatures neared 100 Tuesday afternoon, the Big Knife Fire east of Arlee sent up a towering column of smoke as the relative humidity dropped to 16%. According to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire, trees on the interior of the fire  north of the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness were torching, but helicopters continued making water drops along the west side to protect inhabited areas of the Jocko Valley.

The fire pushed primarily to the east Tuesday, up toward the Tribal Primitive Area and away from Jocko, Francis and Arlee. Pumps and sprinkler systems are in place to protect infrastructure east of the fire as well as the Jocko Lookout, which has been wrapped with fire-resistant wrap and water systems are in place.

On the south end of the fire in the Agency Creek drainage, the Craig Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew worked along the fire's edge where it was safe to do so.

Wednesday morning’s update now estimates the Big Knife Fire at 6,100 acres with 7% containment. More smoke production and fire growth can be expected Wednesday as weather conditions remain extremely hot and dry with increased winds kicking up from the south in the morning and shifting to northwest in the afternoon.

Tuesday, a new fire, believed to be human-caused, was reported near Dog Lake along U.S. Highway 28 at mile marker 11 between Hot Springs and Plains. Crews were able to contain the fire to 4 acres.

Big Knife Fire on Tuesday afternoon. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)
Big Knife Fire on Tuesday afternoon. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

Fortunately, the other two Flathead Reservation fires - Mill Pocket and Niarada - remained fairly quiet Tuesday, and both are 80-90% contained.

For that reason, during Thursday’s changeover of the Northern Rockies Complex Incident Management Team, the CKST Division of Fire will take control of the Mill Pocket and Niarada fires, while the Incident Management Team retains control of the Big Knife Fire.

The Incident Management Team on the Colt Fire south of Lindbergh Lake in the Swan drainage was quick Wednesday morning to say the smoke covering the region was due to the Big Knife Fire. The Colt Fire has covered 7,202 acres but is 45% contained along the most important areas, the inhabited sections along Highway 83 east of the fire.

Crews are removing hose from the Beaver Lake area to the north where they are no longer needed. There are no longer any evacuation orders or warnings. But Lake Alva, Lake Inez, and Rainy Lake campgrounds remain closed due to firefighter activity in the area.