The lightning-caused wildfire that erupted on August 18 in the Lolo Creek area about 8 miles west of Lolo and quickly spread and morphed into what is now called the Lolo Creek Complex was about 47% contained as of Monday. More than 750 personnel are assigned to the fire which had consumed close to 11,000 acres, including five homes, as of Monday.
US Highway 12, which has been closed to through traffic since August 19, was reopened on Friday, August 23 and the evacuation order for residents along the highway corridor was lifted. However, an evacuation warning still remains in effect for the area as conditions could change with the continued dry and warm weather. There is a restricted driving speed of 45 mph on Highway 12 and law enforcement will be patrolling to enforce the safety speed limits and to keep travelers from stopping along the road. Fire crews are working close to the highway in the fire areas and fire officials ask that road users drive with headlights on and observe safety rules. Smoke can be heavy, especially in the morning before the inversion lifts.
Structure protection crews cleared around residences accessed off of Highway 12 and slowly brought the fire down to the highway in a controlled manner, removing pockets of fuel along the roadway. Crews then removed snags that might have become weakened by the fire and were in danger of falling into the roadway or amongst structures in the area. Bringing the fire in a controlled manner down to the north side of the road also reduces the chance of the fire jumping over to the south side of the highway and helps prevent the fire from continuing to move east toward the more populated Lolo area. The south half of the fire is now in full mop up and patrol status.
Active firefighting is now focused on the northern edge of the fire that remains uncontrolled. The fire has been moving into National Forest lands on the higher reaches and more inaccessible areas, especially in the rough terrain of the Woodman Creek canyon. There are fewer roads and opportunity for direct line building in this area and aircraft have been dropping retardant to slow fire growth and support direct line construction. Helicopters are using both water and retardant drops to assist firefighters on the ground in some of the areas that are accessible and where there are opportunities for control.
The potential threat the fire represents is far from over. There is still a free burning north edge that represents 50% of the fire’s perimeter. This north edge is in difficult terrain with limited access, heavier fuels and few safety zones and escape routes. The fire has become established in the Woodman Creek Basin and it will take a considerable effort to contain it in this area. The fire now poses an immediate threat to the 500 KV Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) powerline located one mile south of Blue Mountain. If the fire becomes established in Woodman Creek Basin it will remain a potential threat to hundreds of residences, other private property and the infrastructure in the Hwy 93 corridor between Lolo and Missoula, resulting in future evacuations and disruptions of a critical north/south state highway.