Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Weather forecasters predicted that Monday’s heat and high winds would encourage wildfires, and now, three new fires are burning around Arlee.

On Monday at 6 p.m., a fire was reported burning in the mountains 6 miles east of Arlee on the edge of the Flathead Reservation along the border of Missoula and Lake counties. Dubbed the Big Knife Incident, the fire has burned about 120 acres as of 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, according to the Montana Department of Natural Resources Conservation wildland fire map.

Another wildfire, the 6000 RD Incident, was reported burning on Monday at 11 a.m. near Deemer Peak in the mountains between Camas Prairie and Plains. No other information is currently available.

Thunderstorms rolled through the Missoula area at around 5 a.m. Tuesday, producing about 30 lighting strikes within a 50-mile radius of Missoula, according to LightningMaps.org.

About an hour later, a fire was reported burning about 6 miles north of Huson and about 2.5 miles southeast of Ch-paa-qn Peak, south of the Reservation Divide. As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the fire has burned about an acre and has been labeled the Six Mile Incident.

Meanwhile, over in the Swan Valley, the Colt Fire, which started a week ago, is estimated at almost 4,400 acres. The fire started to take off on Friday, growing from 200 acres to 1,000 on Saturday. It continued to grow over the weekend, as daytime temperatures soared to 100 degrees.

Then on Monday, gusty winds, low relative humidity levels and the passage of a dry cold front caused the fire to expand by almost 1,500 acres, according to Tuesday’s Northern Rockies Incident Team report.

Crews have established an indirect control line along Forest Service Road 646, known as the Colt/Uhler Road. As winds pushed the fire east on Monday afternoon, the 2-mile line mostly held - the fire crossed the road at one point resulting in a 6-acre burn. The wind also blew firebrands across the road creating spot fires. But crews were able to control these.

As the winds have shifted to blow out of the southeast, crews are using the respite to try to preserve structures along Highway 83 and lakes south and east of the fire by cutting vegetation to create defensible space and setting up pumps, hoses, and sprinklers around structures. Several residents have failed to create a defensible space around their houses.

Helicopters and airplanes were used to drop water on the fire before afternoon thunderstorms moved through the area Monday, and high winds made it unsafe for low-level flights.

The crews are looking forward to cooler temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, humidity levels will drop to around 30%, and northwest winds gusting to 15-20 mph are forecast on the ridges. Fire behavior will continue to be active and torching and spotting are possible in the subalpine fir and lodgepole pine.

Residences along Beaver Creek Road have been ordered to evacuate while three other areas near the Colt Fire are under an evacuation warning. Due to the possibility of rapidly changing conditions, an Evacuation Order may be issued with no prior notice or warning. Home and property owners in the surrounding area should remain vigilant and prepared.

The Lolo and Flathead National Forests have closed several forest roads, areas, and campgrounds near the fire area for public safety.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.

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