Rice Ridge fire’s containment date estimated as Oct. 1; evacuation zones expand

The Rice Ridge fire as seen from Seeley Lake earlier this week. (Leon Kauffman via Twitter)

The 30,662-acre Rice Ridge fire has burned to within 1.4 miles of Seeley Lake and shows no signs of losing its power anytime soon.

In fact, the fire’s incident command team lists its estimated containment date as Oct. 1.

A wind- and heat-driven run late Monday afternoon required the mandatory evacuation of more than 1,000 homes in and near Seeley Lake, and that order remains in place.

In addition, the Missoula County sheriff issued an evacuation warning Tuesday afternoon for the Big Sky and Emerald Lake areas, including all properties from the intersection of Woodworth Road and Highway 83, east to Skilly Drive, and all properties north of Woodworth Road.

Information officers said the fire became active Monday along its uncontained edge, and an abrupt change in the afternoon wind allowed it to spread south in the Seeley Creek area.

That growth was checked short of the homes when incident commanders were able to call in “significant air resources,” they said, including cooper planes, VLATs (Very Large Air Tankers) and heavy helicopters.

Tuesday’s work plan included burning to tie in the newly blackened acreage from Monday’s run into old burn scars and previously built fire lines.

Ground crews and equipment were relocated to the Morrell Creek area, flanking Monday’s burn, and along Cottonwood Lakes Road to the east. There, they will clear and move fuel out of the area before it, too, ignites.

The waters of Seeley Lake are again closed to give all access to firefighting aircraft. The Seeley Lake and Big Larch campgrounds also are closed, as is the Clearwater Canoe Trail.

The mandatory evacuation zone is:

Northern Boundary: The junction of Highway 83 and Cedar Lane northeast to Morrell Creek Road. The boundary continues along the Cottonwood Lakes Road east to the Lolo National Forest boundary.

Eastern Boundary: Cottonwood Lakes Road at the forest boundary and south to the northern boundary of the Double Arrow.

Southern Boundary: The junction of Highway 83 and Whitetail Drive east to the junction of Whitetail Drive and Dolly Varden. The southern boundary continues east to include the area north of the Commons Area and eastward to the intersection of Montana Drive and South Canyon Drive, continuing southeast along Montana Drive to the junction with Glacier Drive and then south to the junction with Double Arrow Road including Pyramid Loop and all areas in the Double Arrow Subdivision to the south and east.

Western Boundary: The junction of Highway 83 and Cedar Lane south to the junction of Highway 83 and Whitetail Drive.

The sheriff also extended the evacuation warning area to include the area from the south Boyscout Road north to Tamaracks Resort, west of Highway 83 and east of Seeley Lake. Residents in the warning area should be prepared to leave their homes on very short notice.

University Congregational Church in Missoula is providing an evacuation shelter in conjunction with the Red Cross for any Seeley Lake area residents who need a safe place to stay.