On Sunday evening, a wildfire that started Saturday near Flathead Lake had destroyed a number of homes and threatened the University of Montana Flathead Lake Biological Station.
On Saturday morning, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes discovered a fire, dubbed the Boulder 2700 Fire, in the Mission Mountains 8 miles east of Polson. It grew to 200 acres by midday.
But as winds shifted from the northeast on Sunday, the fire descended the mountainsides toward Flathead Lake, growing to more than 1,000 acres and burning 15 to 20 homes during Saturday night. Power was shut off to the area to prevent any further starts.
Authorities have closed Montana Highway 35 for 15 miles along the east side of Flathead Lake starting at mile-marker 6 outside Polson. An evacuation order was issued on Sunday from mile-markers 6 to 13 on Highway 35 and all of Finley Point. The Red Cross has opened a shelter for evacuees at the Linderman Gymnasium in Polson. Volunteers have rallied at Murdoch’s in Polson to take care of displaced livestock.
On Monday morning, a Northern Rockies Type 2 team took control of the fire. It’s yet unknown whether the recent rain helped to dampen the flames.
The fire was no longer an immediate threat to the Flathead Lake Biological Station at Yellow Bay, but the station was still without power and Internet service, according to the station’s Facebook post. They are using a backup generator. Staff made the decision to move all classes to the University of Montana campus for the rest of the summer. Long-term researchers and graduate students moved to temporary housing elsewhere.
Two pets became Facebook famous for escaping the fire.
At one point on Sunday, the flames forced a black cat out onto a cliff near Finley Point. With nowhere to go as the fire neared, the cat reportedly made a last-ditch successful jump to a nearby fir tree. Finley Point firefighter Bryce Muench was able to convince the cat to crawl down a tree branch he offered into his arms, according to a post by Life Savers Animal Rescue.
The cat was singed and suffered respiratory issues but is doing well and the owners have been identified.
“It is our understanding that this cat’s family did lose their home so we will provide placement for this cat until they are able to be reunited,” the Life Savers Animal Rescue post said.
Also on Sunday, Jeremy Thomas posted a photo of a dog stranded on a private dock at Finley Point in Flathead Lake. A firefighter said the dog couldn’t escape because the ground beyond the dock was too hot to walk on. Thomas tried to rescue the dog but it was fearful and won’t let him on the dock. A Lake County search and rescue crew later retrieved the dog. The owners are yet to be identified.
A community meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Linderman gym in Polson. The cause of the fire is under investigation. The Flathead Reservation upped its fire restrictions to Stage 2 on July 17 due to extreme fire danger.
In other fire news, the Thorne Creek Fire north of Thompson Falls has burned about 17,500 acres and is not contained. The area received about a third of an inch of rain overnight but that can add to the hazards for firefighters since burned areas can be muddy and slippery.
Bret Witham died four years ago today fighting the 2017 Lolo Peak Fire, and the West Lolo Complex has already had four injuries. So fire commanders want to safeguard their crews as much as possible.
Crews are trying to shore up their fire lines to the south nearest the residential areas surrounding Thompson Falls. Evacuations have been ordered for residents along part of Blue Slide Road.
Some backburns may be used but crews want to avoid any additional spot fires. Since Monday is predicted to be one of the cooler days with high humidity, the crews hope to make as much headway as possible.
“We’re going to rob the fire of fuel as it nears our control line,” said Mark Goler, deputy incident commander. “It is a slow methodical process. We don’t want to move too fast because that in itself can cause an awful lot of problems that we want to avoid. Again, we meet the fire on our terms, not it coming to us.”
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at email@example.com.