Sapphire fire grows, Grant Creek fire culprit sought
Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current
Western Montana’s cool, wet start to the summer held wildfires at bay for a while. But recent flare-ups show that trend is coming to an end.
On Monday afternoon, the Lolo and Bitterroot national forests upped the fire danger to High after an unseasonably hot weekend. Even though Monday was cooler, high winds combined with the onset of extremely low humidity created a high risk for wildfire.
That increased risk played a role in the expansion of the Hog Trough Fire east of Hamilton.
On Sunday night, lightning that likely came from the storm that passed through the region in advance of Monday’s cold front started the Hog Trough Fire 7 miles southwest of Skalkaho Falls near the border of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The Bitterroot National Forest was alerted but decided against putting crews on the fire due to the rugged terrain and the high winds predicted for Monday.
The Gird Point Lookout monitored the fire, which had about 3 acres by Monday afternoon.
By Tuesday afternoon, high winds topping out at 50 mph had pushed it east onto the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest, causing it to grow to 300 acres in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area. The winds were so strong last night that all aircraft were grounded, and a window was blown out of the Gird Point Lookout.
A Type 3 Incident Management Team has been assigned to the fire, but it’s still too dangerous for crews to work in the area. Strategies to manage and suppress the fire may include both ground and aviation resources as needed. An Infrared flight is scheduled for Tuesday night to get an estimate of the size of the burn.
Closer to Missoula, Grant Creek residents were alarmed around 10:30 Sunday night to see a grass fire burning in the North Hills east of Grant Creek. The Missoula Fire Department and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation responded as the fire moved southwest toward the Glen Eagle subdivision. They were able to contain the fire after about an hour. It burned slightly more than 4 acres.
The cause of the fire is believed to be fireworks. The Missoula Rural Fire Department is asking for any information on the people who were lighting fireworks or any camera footage of the vehicle that sped down Glen Eagle Way at about 10:40 p.m.
Meanwhile, smoke is starting to become a factor in Montana’s air quality. Last week, winds carried smoke from California’s Washburn Fire up to southwest Montana, although it wasn’t much more than a high haze.
This past weekend brought more smoke from the Moose Fire near Salmon, Idaho, into the region around Dillon and Bozeman. The Moose Fire was first reported on Sunday and has already grown to 12,200 acres as of Tuesday morning.
The other large fire in Montana is the 88-acre Moors Mountain Fire in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness near Helena, which started on Saturday. The Wilks Gulch Fire southeast of Hot Springs burned 355 acres a few weeks ago but was completely contained.
When fire danger is “high,” fires will start easily and spread rapidly. Unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape.
The forecast for the next 10 days shows temperatures topping out in the 90’s every day with almost no chance of precipitation. That means lightning will be less of a factor but studies show more than 85% of wildfires are human-caused.
So far this year, firefighters on the Bitterroot National Forest have extinguished six human-caused fires and 17 lightning fires.
Six fires of unknown origin have started in central and eastern Montana since Monday afternoon.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.