Rice Ridge fire explodes, evacuations ordered in Seeley Lake

A drone forced all firefighting aircraft to pull off the Rice Ridge fire late Sunday, when firefighters were calling for extra support. Drones are prohibited above wildfires. (inciweb)

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Monday night for 1,200 homes facing an “immediate fire threat” from the 27,863-acre Rice Ridge fire burning near Seeley Lake.

Updated at 9:30 p.m., the evacuation order includes this area, according to the Missoula County sheriff:

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.

An evacuation shelter is open in Missoula at the University Congregational Church, 405 University Ave.

Monday afternoon’s blowup also necessitated another closure of Seeley Lake to all boating, fishing, swimming and other uses to reserve the water surface for firefighting aircraft, including helicopters.

Those aircraft had to be pulled off the fire late Sunday when a drone was seen flying over the fire. Drones are prohibited above all wildfires burning in Montana, as they pose a direct threat to firefighting aircraft.

At Rice Ridge, firefighters had requested the support of helicopters with water drops, but could not get that needed help because of the illegal drone.

The fire was started by lightning on July 24 and has burned actively since, prompting several evacuations and a longstanding evacuation warning for much of the area.