Fire crews across Missoula, western region fighting hot, windy conditions
Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
While much of the attention in western Montana remains focused on the high-profile Elmo fire near Flathead Lake, fire officials in Missoula County have been busy as well.
Crews so far have been able to keep fires in check despite record-setting temperatures, wind and dry conditions. But every new start holds the potential for rapid spread.
“We've had a busy few days, but nothing has gotten out of hand as it gets hotter and drier in our area,” Nick Holloway, deputy coordinator of Disaster and Emergency Services in Missoula County, said on Tuesday.
In recent days, fire crews held a blaze in the Rattlesnake area to less than 1 acre while Frenchtown crews successfully doused a car fire in grass on Evaro Hill. A brush fire in Alberton was also held in check.
Holloway said another fire off Highway 12 prompted some evacuations but was held to 10 acres.
“Thanks to a quick and robust response with a lot of the agencies, which included 10 engines and three helicopters, we were able to knock that down and get people back in their homes fairly quickly,” Holloway said.
Conditions in recent days have been challenging. Missoula reached 100 degrees or more for four consecutive days, followed on the fifth day by lightening, then wind.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for the region, meaning conditions are ripe for easy fire starts and rapid spread.
“It's obviously been very hot and dry and continues to be. It's going to be dry and breezy today,” said Holloway. “We're near the top of our energy-release component and burning index for the year. We're sort of hovering between 'very high' and 'extreme' fire danger.”
Several other prolonged fires continue to creep, including a small fire near Marshall Lake in the Seeley-Swan area. Holloway said it has been held to less than 1 acre thus far with a helicopter, and crews were moving in on Tuesday.
The Hog Trough fire south of Missoula continues to get attention as well.
“It's been held to around 600 acres or so. It's back in an area that has previously burned. They're transitioning to a Type 2 (incident management team) to keep it out of the timber,” Hollow said.
The Elmo fire near Flathead Lake continues to be the region's big fire. Since starting last Friday, it has grown to nearly 17,000 acres and has prompted road closures and evacuations.
The incident team on that fire said several structures have been lost, though details weren't yet available on Tuesday morning.
“It's business as usual for this time of year, though it's a little more dry than it usually is,” Holloway said of the region.
Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier on Tuesday urged residents in the urban interface to ensure they tend to their home-ignition zone. That includes removing dead pine needles from gutters and clearing brush 100 feet away from a structure.
“You should not have stacks of firewood up against your house or on your deck. If you do, you're tempting fate,” Strohmaier said. “Embers can travel up to two miles from a wildfire. Just about anywhere in Missoula County is susceptible to ember showers and the potential to lose your home.”