Kootenai Forest fire forces evacuations

Kootenai Forest fire forces evacuations

8 August 2005

publishedby IndependentRecord

MISSOULA — Homes along the east side of Koocanusa Reservoir were being evacuated Sunday night, as a fast-moving wildfire ripped across 1,200 acres.

“We’re about 98 degrees on the fire line and have some wind, so it’s pushing this thing pretty fast,” Kootenai National Forest spokesman Bill Fansler said about 8 p.m. Sunday. “This thing is moving.”

A number of year-round homes are in the area and were being evacuated, he said.

“There are a lot of homes scattered throughout the area,” Fansler said. “I don’t know how many. But these people got burned around in 2000, so I’m sure this fire is causing a lot of concern.”

The Camp 32 fire started Sunday afternoon just off a road along the reservoir and was almost certainly human-caused, he said.

Air tankers and helicopters were dropping slurry and water, but the fire really took off after getting into brush piles.

“That brush produced a lot of heat and sparks,” Fansler said. “There was a pretty big column of smoke, and that’s when things took off.”

Kootenai forest officials were hustling to order firefighting crews and a fire management team, he said, and everyone was anxious for nightfall to slow the fire’s progress.

The Camp 32 fire is south of Eureka in the Pinkham Creek area.

Among the other wildfires in western Montana Sunday were these:

FLATHEAD NATIONAL FOREST: Firefighters chased three wildfires in the Bob Marshall Wilderness on Sunday, two of which were human-caused.

Largest of the new starts was the 500-acre Kelly Point fire located about 20 miles south of the Spotted Bear Ranger Station and a mile north of Black Bear Cabin.

That fire is thought to be human-caused and is under investigation.

Discovered Saturday by a passing aircraft, the Kelly Point fire initially threatened the Forest Service’s administrative-use cabin at Black Bear. Crews were able to protect the cabin and several outbuildings, and will continue to keep watch over them.

For public safety, the Flathead National Forest closed several trails in the vicinity of the Kelly Point fire:

n East Side South Fork trail (Forest Trail No. 80) from Meadow Creek to Salmon Forks, south of Mud Lake.

n West Side South Fork trail (Forest Trail No. 263) from Black Bear Creek to the junction of Forest Trail No. 29, Little Salmon Creek Trail.

Also discovered by a passing airplane Saturday was the Limestone Peak fire, which has burned about 100 acres and is about 20 miles east of Spotted Bear. That fire was lightning-caused and is burning in a remote area of the wilderness.

For public safety, the Silvertip Creek Trail No. 89 is closed.

Flathead forest spokeswoman Denise Germann said fire managers intend to use natural barriers, like rocky outcrops and previously burned areas, to confine and contain the Limestone Peak and Kelly Point fires.

“We’re going to confine these fires,” she said.

A 10-person interagency fire team will help the Flathead forest manage the fires.

The third wilderness smoke Sunday was about nine miles south of Black Bear Cabin along the South Fork of the Flathead River.

Flathead forest firefighters were batting down that fire, which had burned less than an acre. It, too, was thought to be human-caused.

Germann said smoke from the wilderness fires was visible in the Flathead Valley. But the valley is also getting a dose of smoke from wildfires burning to the south, she said, most likely from those along Interstate 90 on the Lolo National Forest.

Anyone with questions about trail closures on the Spotted Bear Ranger District should call (406) 758-5376.

Questions about wildfires on the Flathead National Forest can be answered at (406) 758-5208 or on the Web at www.fs.fed.us/r1/flathead.

BEAVERHEAD-DEERLODGE NATIONAL FOREST: The Frog Pond fire camp closed Sunday, with the fire fully contained east of the Continental Divide.

Now the responsibility of the Pintler Ranger District, the fire showed only scattered smokes and no active fire.

Firefighters continue to patrol the area southwest of Philipsburg and south of the Skalkaho Highway. Aircraft will also continue scouting the fire.

Trail No. 313 remains closed in the Bitterroot National Forest, just north of Shadow Lake along the trail system that reaches into the Beaverhead forest. Trails 168, 40 and 434 also remain closed in the fire area.

However, flight restrictions over the fire area have been lifted.

By Sherry Devlin – Missoulian 


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