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41 Complex fire closes Skalkaho Highway

The 41 Complex fires burning in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton grew to more than 2,800 acres, as of Tuesday afternoon. The fires grew by 800 acres on Monday, pushed by hot and dry conditions and breezy winds. Increased burning was expected Tuesday as a Red Flag Warning was issued for increased fire behavior potential. Higher temperatures and low humidity are expected for the next several days.

Due to extreme fire conditions including heavy smoke and burning and rolling debris falling onto the road, Skalkaho Highway was closed Monday by the Montana Transportation Department and remains closed at this time. The closure begins at mile post 14 just past Black Bear Campground and continues over the pass to mile post 30, just west of Gem Mountain. The fire spotted over the highway numerous times on Monday and is now burning on both sides of the road.

The 41 Complex fires has been causing smoky conditions throughout the valley. Due to an inversion, smoke has been hanging in the valley especially during the morning hours.

The lightning-caused fires began on August 28 and grew to more than 70 acres within a few hours. They are currently burning approximately 10 miles east of Hamilton and several miles north of the Gird Point Lookout. The fires continue to move to the south and east, away from Hamilton and private property. They are also burning in the direction of several old fires including the Gird End fire. There are no structures threatened at this time.

41 Complex fire information (as of press time):

• Approximately 2,849 acres. Up Top fire (2,744 acres), 41 fire (105 acres)

•  5 engines total including 1 engine and water tender from the Hamilton Fire Department

•  2 helicopters water drops were scheduled for Tuesday afternoon to cool hot spots

•  Four crews – approximately 80 firefighters assigned to the fire including 3 Type I Hotshot crews – Bitterroot, Carson and Chief Mountain Hotshots.

•  Gird Road #714 remains closed to provide for public and firefighter safety

Due to the growing complexity of the fires, a Type I Incident Management Team was ordered on Tuesday. They were scheduled to arrive by Wednesday and will manage the fires under a unified command structure with the Bitterroot National Forest and Hamilton Fire Department.

A fire information trailer with the latest maps and area closures has been set up at Canyon View Church, 195 Skalkaho Highway. Officials with the Bitterroot National Forest will be on hand daily to answer questions and share information with the public.

For more information, including to see aerial photos of the fires visit www.inciweb.org/incident/2544

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