The thunderstorms that brought rain and wind to the valley Sunday night also brought lots of lightning which sparked nine new wildfires on the Bitterroot National Forest, according to Bitterroot National Forest Public Affairs Officer Tod McKay. Four fires are burning east of Hamilton on Monday in the Sapphire Mountains on the Darby Ranger District. Smoke from these fires was very visible from downtown Hamilton. Five smaller fires are burning on the West Fork Ranger District in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. These fires are each approximately .10 acre and are currently being managed for resource benefits associated with fire and are not being staffed.
The fires on the Darby Ranger District are all burning approximately 10 miles east of Hamilton and several miles northwest of the Gird Point Lookout. As of Monday, the largest fire was approximately 50 acres. Two are approximately 20 acres in size and the fourth is only about one acre. Five engines and 20 firefighters were dispatched and three more crews, including a Type I ‘hotshot’ crew, had been ordered. No structures or property was threatened as of press time.
There will likely be several road and trail closures associated with these fires including Gird Road #714 off Skalkaho Highway. Fire managers will manage the three largest fires as one complex called the Forty One Complex with their first priority being to keep the fires from moving west onto private land.
Saddle Complex Fire update
The Saddle Complex started out as two fires, the Saddle Fire, which started on August 10, and the Stud Fire, which started on August 14. They initially flared up during an unexpected wind event on August 18, growing to about 500 acres. Another wind event on August 22 caused the fires to join and go on a 17,000-acre run during the afternoon, moving onto the Bitterroot National Forest. The fire is burning in continuous lodgepole pine and sub-alpine fire stands in steep terrain that has not been impacted by fire in over 100 years.
The fire had grown to over 23,851 acres as of Monday, August 29, and with 198 personnel battling the blaze it was still zero percent contained. Three helicopters, thirteen engines and six crews were at work on the fire on Monday. Although 67 residences have been identified as threatened, none have been lost.
According to information available on the inciweb fire site, as of Monday, two different teams were managing the fire: one on the Salmon-Challis National Forest and one on the Bitterroot National Forest, divided at the state line. The highest priority for both teams is the safety of firefighters and the public. The Idaho side of the fire is being managed for resource benefit, with protection strategies in place around residences and other structures of value. A local Type 3 team is in place.
On the Montana side, the Northern Rockies Wildland Fire Management Team, with Incident Commanders Diane Hutton and Charles Scripps of the Painted Rocks Fire Department, are operating a unified command. Stage 1 evacuation notices have been made at about 50 residences south of Painted Rocks. Structure protection continues for the residences. Hand crews and water drops and fire retardant are actively working to keep the fire from spreading to Deer Creek on the northeast flank of the fire. The eastside is being held west of the Bitterroot River using water drops from three helicopters.
The Phoenix National Incident Management Organization has arrived on the Salmon-Challis National Forest to assist with all ongoing fires, including the Saddle Complex. As of Monday, 11,992 acres had burned on the Bitterroot National Forest. A Firewise Trailer has been set up at the Painted Rocks State Park Campground. Residents can stop by to learn more about the Saddle Fire and also get tips on maintaining defensible space around their homes.
According to a BNF press release on Monday, it was decided not to go forward with the proposed burn-out that had been scheduled for Sunday afternoon when thunderclouds started forming over the fire area. With the erratic winds associated with the storms a positive outcome would not be guaranteed, however, fire managers used the decreased fire behavior associated with the cloud cover and minor precipitation to build direct fire line and seal off the slop-over in the Woods Creek area that had been the original target of the burn-out. Direct fire line is constructed right along the fire edge and is the most secure type of construction because no fuel is left between the line and the fire, thus reducing chances for fire to move forward. Monday’s cooler, wetter weather helped to suppress fire activity and firefighters were able to build more direct line. As of Monday, firefighter injuries have been limited to minor blisters and bee stings.
On-line access to real-time smoke monitoring for the local area is available at http://www.satguard.com/USFS/aqi.asp, once on the site select real time data, location Montana.