Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Sunday afternoon’s high temperatures and red-flag winds helped several existing wildfires grow and aided the start of several new ones.

Eight wildfires popped up around and north of Flathead Lake. Of note, the Porcupine Creek Incident started Sunday morning on the east side of the Mission Mountains about 3 miles south of Swan Lake. The estimated size was 3 acres as of midday yesterday.

The Wood Point Incident also started in the Mission Mountains on Sunday and is burning about 10 miles south of the Porcupine Creek Incident. As of Monday morning, there have been no new updates.

On the west side of Flathead Lake near Elmo, the Niarada Fire was discovered Sunday morning. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Fire Division closed Highway 28 between Elmo and Hot Springs Sunday afternoon after the fire jumped the highway and spread to the northeast. As of Sunday evening, the fire had covered 2,400 acres of mostly open grassland.

Farther south near Dixon, the Communication Butte Fire was detected around midnight Friday night. By Sunday evening, it had spread east to cover 400 acres. The Flathead River flows between the fire and the CSKT Bison Range, but fire brands carried by the high winds helped the fire jump across the river. So the CSKT decided to close the Bison Range.

The Big Knife fire burns near Arlee. (WIlliam Munoz/Missoula Current)
The Big Knife fire burns near Arlee. (WIlliam Munoz/Missoula Current)
loading...

The CSKT Fire Division reported that the Big Knife Fire east of Arlee had spread to more than 1,000 acres Sunday afternoon, and high winds persisted through Sunday evening. Due to the rapid growth of the fire, the community meeting was cancelled Sunday night so all hands could be fighting the fire. American Red Cross evacuation shelters are open in Arlee and Ronan for those displaced by fire.

Aircraft continue to provide support, however, with the new fire starts in Lake and Sanders counties, resources are getting spread thin.

A fire of unknown origins - but likely human-caused - broke out early Sunday evening along Mormon Creek Road near Lolo, west of Travelers' Rest State Park. Multiple outbuildings and a camper were burned, sending black smoke over Highway 93. The high winds pushed the fire toward the east, as two helicopters made water drops to slow the fire, given the name “Triple L.”

At around 7 p.m., the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office sent out a mandatory evacuation order for Lolo residents living east of Agate Drive and south of Jade Lane. However, by 10 p.m., the fire was contained, having burned about 4 acres, and the order was lifted.

However, the Bitterroot Valley filled with the smoke from another fire Sunday afternoon. The 10,000-acre Elkhorn Fire in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, some 70 miles southwest of  Hamilton, blew up on Sunday, and winds blowing from the southwest pushed smoke into the valley.

Helicopter supporting the Bowles Creek Fire, July 30, 2023. (Inciweb)
Helicopter supporting the Bowles Creek Fire, July 30, 2023. (Inciweb)
loading...

At about the same time late Sunday afternoon, another human-caused fire - the Philipsburg Rubble Incident - started just south of Philipsburg. There is no current information available on the status of the fire.

Between Hamilton and Philipsburg, the Bowles Creek Incident is still burning near Skalkaho Pass in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area. As of Sunday morning, the fire had covered approximately 1,700 acres. Skalkaho Pass Road remains open, however several Forest Service roads have been closed for public safety. Go to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest website to view the closures.

Finally, firefighters were able to keep the Colt Fire from growing too much through Saturday, but Sunday’s winds pushed the burn from an estimated 5,500 acres to almost 6,200 acres.

The crews had been working on enforcing fire lines along the fire’s southeast and east side, which pose more of a threat to homes along Highway 83. The incident team reported on Monday morning that the lines held through Sunday afternoon’s conditions. The fire was active near Beaver Lake and along the southwest corner, where it pushed up toward Sunset Ridge near Sunset Peak.

On Sunday, the winds in Missoula were 25 mph gusting to 30 between 2 and 7 p.m. The National Weather Service is predicting that Monday’s temperatures will again soar into the mid-90s and relative humidity will be low. However, the winds won’t be as strong, topping out at around 10 mph.

Since the majority of wildfires are human-caused, people are cautioned to be careful with fire. Stage 1 Fire Restrictions are in effect throughout western Montana, which means no campfires and no smoking outside of vehicles and buildings.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.

More From Missoula Current