Lolo Peak fire: Some evacuation orders lift at 10 a.m. Monday; danger remains

The Lolo Peak firestorm on Friday night created massive walls of flame and pyrocumulus clouds visible for many miles. Missoula photographer Briar Diggs took this photo from Missoula’s South Hills and posted it on Facebook. (Briar Diggs)

After a weekend that began with a firestorm that threatened two towns, a pair of U.S. highways and nearly 1,000 homes, many residents in and near the Lolo Peak fire heard the words they’d hoped for on Sunday night.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Monday, evacuation orders will be lifted in these areas, although all will remain under an evacuation warning and need to stay alert and prepared to leave again, sheriff’s deputies from Missoula and Ravalli counties said.

As a reminder, a resident pass will still be required for the Old Highway 93 South corridor south of Sun Valley Road. Passes can be obtained by calling Captain Burt at 529-0430

  • On the U.S. Highway 12 corridor from the intersection with U.S. Highway 93 South west to Lolo Creek Driver (mile marker 27), not including Balsamroot Road (where active fire remains). Balsamroot Road will remain under an evacuation order.
  • On the Highway 93 South corridor, from the intersection with Highway 12 south to Sun Valley Road (off Old Highway 93), except Highland Drive and Folsom Road (where firefighters are mopping up and downing burned snags in the most fiercely burned neighborhoods).
  • A resident pass will still be required for the Old Highway 93 South corridor south of Sun Valley Road. To receive a pass, call Missoula Sheriff’s Capt. Bill Burt at 529-0430.

At a community meeting Sunday night, fire operations supervisor Mark Goeller said a dry cold front caused the extreme fire behavior that occurred Friday afternoon and evening, sending the 30,765-acre fire across thousands of acres and creating pyrocumulus clouds visible for many miles.

Flames crested the ridgelines and moved toward both highways 12 and 93, and were visible from Missoula.

“The Mormon Creek drainage was a significant concern,” Goeller said. “We knew the weather was coming and that it would be a challenge.”

The fire spotted into Mill Creek, he said, and made a significant run to the east. “It pushed very, very hard to the east. We were very fortunate it did not jump Highway 12.”

In addition, fire came off Carlton Ridge and down onto the flats west of Florence over the weekend, Goeller said. “We had quite the airshow in that area yesterday.”

Flames pushed to the bottom of the Carlton drainage, he said, and then reversed and ran back to the top of the ridge on the south side. Spot fires repeatedly jumped the control line; each time, firefighters picked them up.

That’s why the Carlton and Tie Chute areas remain under an evacuation order, Goeller explained. The fire continues to burn and spot in those areas, albeit less actively than a few days ago.

No homes burned over the weekend, although two homes and a number of outbuildings on Folsom Road burned overnight on Thursday when firefighters were worked to create a blackened safety zone.

That backfire became more intense than expected and crossed the control line, igniting the homes.

The high pressure system now in place over the region is aiding firefighters, Goeller said.

But both he and sheriff’s deputies warned residents that many weeks remain in the 2017 fire season and the danger is significant throughout the Lolo Peak fire area.