5,000-acre wildfire prompts evacuations northwest of Lame Deer

5,000-acre wildfire prompts evacuations northwest of Lame Deer

23 August 2011

published by http://missoulian.com/

USA — The Waterhole fire has exploded to more than 5,000 acres, prompting evacuations northwest of Lame Deer on Tuesday. 

The fire is about a half-mile north of Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, fire officials said.

Marilyn Krause, fire information officer for the Northern Rockies Type II incident management team that will take command Wednesday morning, said the fire is not contained.

She said it is one of five fires burning in the area. They have been dubbed the Black Springs Complex.

“Temperatures have been in the high 90s, and I think they had sustained winds in the 30s to go with low humidity, so it’s grown quite a bit,” Krause said.

Krause said mandatory evacuations were ordered for homes in the Lynch Coulee Road and Jimtown cutacross road areas. She did not know how many homes were evacuated or how many people were affected.

Mark Hepler, dispatch manager of the Billings Interagency Dispatch center, said evacuees were asked to go to Lame Deer High School.

Christie Foote works at the dispatch center in Lame Deer and was manning the emergency shelter at the high school Tuesday night. She said that, as of 9 p.m., nobody was staying at the shelter.

However, some people did come by to register with the shelter, provide information about where they would be staying and pick up supplies such as first-aid kits, toiletries and blankets.

“We just put together this shelter for them, a place they can come if they need,” Foot said. “But right now there’s no one here.”

Krause estimated that the five fires had burned as much as 5,800 acres by Tuesday evening.

As many as 15 engines and numerous helicopters and heavy tankers were assisting fire crews from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.

“We’ve got more resources ordered,” Krause said. “Obviously the fire was real active today, and we expect that to continue for the next few days.”

Also in Rosebud County, three lightening-caused fires about 30 miles south of Ashland in the Custer National Forest combined into one fire, known as the Diamond Complex. By Tuesday evening, it had burned about 13,500 acres of ponderosa pine and sagebrush, said Kimberly Frasier, fire information officer from the Ashland Ranger District.

“There are a few structures within the (complex), but at this time I don’t have an update to whether they are in danger or anything like that,” Frasier said.

No evacuations had been ordered as of Tuesday evening.

Ground and air crews were fighting two other fires near Ashland, the Mullins fire at 2,000 acres and the Mill fire, which grew from 200 acres to 2,000 by Tuesday evening.

The Diamond Complex and Mill fire grew significantly throughout the day, thanks in large part to hot, dry weather.

“We have been more ordering resources and they’re steadily coming in,” Fraiser said. She added that Forest Service, Rosebud County and Bureau of Land Management crews have been fighting the fire, along with local landowners and with the help of helicopters and air tankers.

Frasier said a ground team from the Northern Rockies Incident Management team will assume command of the Diamond Complex on Tuesday night.

Between Sunday evening and Tuesday morning, firefighters on the Crow Indian Reservation contained nearly a dozen new wildfires while they continue to deal with the 800-acre Hoss fire burning in the Bighorn Mountains.

Most, if not all, of the 11 new fires were caused by a lightning storm that rolled through the area Sunday.

The largest of the new fires, called the Beauvais Creek fire, burned about 775 acres northwest of St. Xavier. A Bureau of Indian Affairs press release said that it was no longer “showing open flame” by late Tuesday morning but that there were still areas giving off heat.

A pair of engines continued to patrol the area Tuesday evening.

The fires range in size from two acres to 775. The release said engine and hotshot crews remain on most of the fires, many of which were contained or controlled by Tuesday.

Officials said one of the fires, in the Reno Creek valley, was threatening homes. That prompted tribal and federal agencies to bring in a heavy air tanker to drop retardant on the blaze.

Two helicopters, a hotshot fire crew and firefighters from Big Horn County also assisted in the effort to contain that fire, known as the Blankenship fire.

The 800-acre Hoss fire burning in Black Canyon is about 75 percent contained and officials are considering reduce efforts to monitoring by engines and a single helicopter if it doesn’t grow by Wednesday.

About 35 firefighters remain on scene there.

Because of expected high temperatures and low humidity Tuesday, Big Horn County put Stage 1 fire restrictions in place, which prohibit most fires and campfires and doesn’t allow for smoking except in enclosed vehicles, buildings or developed recreation sites or in an area at least three feet in diameter that’s been cleared of possible fuel.

To the west, the Bull Fire, which has been burning in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness 12 miles west of Gardiner since July 29, grew to 248 acres because of the weather.

That prompted fire officials to send out a pair of additional firefighters to protect structures and monitor the fire, but the plan remains to let the fire burn naturally.

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