Montana: Lolo Creek Complex southwest of Missoula

(UPDATE at 10 p.m. MDT, August 22, 2013)

Map of Lolo Complex at 2 a.m. MDT, August 22, 2013
Map of Lolo Complex. The red line was the fire perimeter at 2 a.m. MDT, August 22, 2013. The pink line was the perimeter about 24 before that. (click to enlarge)

As you can see in the map above, the Lolo Creek Complex did not spread much in the 24 hours before it was mapped at 2 a.m. on Thursday, and firefighters reported very little additional movement of the fire during the day. A heat detecting satellite found very little heat on the fire Thursday afternoon, and some of that may have been from a burnout operation conducted by firefighters to check the eastward movement of the fire.

The weather forecast for the fire area includes strong southwest winds on Friday, at 17 mph gusting to 29 mph. The relative humidity will not be extremely low, bottoming out at 28 percent. There will be a 30 to 50 percent chance of thundershowers Friday and Saturday. The nearest weather station we could find was the one at the Fire Lab in Missoula about 11 miles to the northwest, which recorded 11 percent RH at 4:28 p.m. Thursday.

Lolo Creek Complex above Fort Fizzle, August 22, 2013.
Lolo Creek Complex above Fort Fizzle, August 22, 2013.

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(UPDATE at 9 a.m. MDT, August 21, 2013)

Lolo Creek Complex
Lolo Creek Complex as seen from the Missoula Airport at 6:09 p.m. MDT, August 20, 2013

The Lolo Creek Complex has been very active over the last 24 hours, continuing to spread to the north and east. It added about 3,600 acres, bringing the total to 8,600 acres. Late into Tuesday night the fire was still spreading on the north and southeast sides, but not as rapidly as it was moving across the landscape Tuesday afternoon.

Map of Lolo Creek Complex at 2 am MDT, August 21, 2013
Map of Lolo Creek Complex at 2 a.m. MDT, August 21, 2013. The red line is the perimeter at 2 a.m. Wednesday. The pink line is the perimeter 24 hours before. (click to enlarge)

As you can see on the map of the Lolo Creek Complex above, the fire spread 2.5 miles to the east during the 24-hour period ending at 2 a.m. Wednesday, making it as far as Chicksman Gulch. It is now within 2 miles of the outskirts of Lolo, and 6 miles from the south edge of Missoula.

Greg Poncin’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

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(UPDATE at 8:55 a.m. MDT, August 20, 2013)

Map of Lolo Complex at 11 p.m. MDT, August 19, 2013
Map of Lolo Complex at 11 p.m. MDT, August 19, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The Schoolhouse and Westfork 2 fires, which were on opposite sides of Highway 12 eight miles southwest of the outskirts of Missoula, have burned together and are now called the Lolo Creek Complex. As of 11 p.m. Monday night the fire was still  five miles west of Lolo.

The Incident Management Team released this information about the fire Tuesday morning:

“The Lolo Creek Complex, consisting of two fires, formerly the Schoolhouse Fire and the West Fork II Fire, is estimated at 5,000 acres. Extreme fire danger and Red Flag conditions hampered initial attack efforts and the fire experienced rapid growth yesterday, driven by winds of 40-50 mph. Firefighters continue to focus on structure protection and will work today to establish a safe anchor point and begin to contain the fire. Firefighters conducted a burnout last night along the Elk Meadows Road to remove unburned fuel along this possible fuel break. The fire is being managed jointly by the Lolo National Forest and the Montana DNRC.

A National, Type 1 Incident Management Team is en route to the fire, and will be briefed on the situation today. Predicted weather over the next several days will continue to challenge firefighters; heavy smoke will impact air operations, and the potential for fire growth is very high.

There are confirmed structure losses, including homes. Additional information should be available later today. There are voluntary evacuations for residents along Bear Creek Road and down to Sleeman Road. There is an evacuation shelter at Christ the King Church, 1400 Gerald Street, in Missoula. Missoula County Disaster & Emergency Services has established a hotline for affected residents with information on shelters, care for large animals, and other information. The number is 258-4636.

No injuries have been reported.”

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(Originally published at 8:39 p.m. MDT, August 19, 2013)

Lolo Complex Missoula
Lolo Creek Complex as seen from Missoula at 8:13 p.m. MDT, August 19, 2013

The Lolo Creek Complex was formed today after the West Fork 2 fire blew up on the south side of Highway 12, west of Lolo, Montana. The fire is just a few miles from the Schoolhouse Fire on the north side of the Highway. Now the two fires are being managed as a complex. They are on both sides of Highway 12, eight miles southwest of the outskirts of Missoula and five miles west of Lolo. The fires have burned about 3,500 acres.

Map of Lolo Creek Complex at 2:57 p.m. MDT, August 19, 2013
Map of Lolo Creek Complex showing heat detected by a satellite at 2:57 p.m. MDT, August 19, 2013. The location of each square can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)

Highway 12 is closed at the junction of Highway 93 but residents are being allowed into the area. Fire managers and local law enforcement are also coordinating pre-evacuation notices as needed for impacted areas near Bear Creek Road and other areas west of the town of Lolo.

Fry’s Type 2 Incident Management Team that has been managing the Nimrod fire will take over the complex.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

11 thoughts on “Montana: Lolo Creek Complex southwest of Missoula”

  1. Karrie I think the fires are quite a distance from there.

    Bill, according to the Missoulian this morning a Type I team is supposed to arrive today. Dont know which one.

  2. The fire is a good ways down from the pass and burning away from it, but I don’t know the mile marker. I live up a rural gulch that Ts into US12 and runs north/south–we’re on voluntary evac waiting to see what happens today…but we’re ready to go. According to the latest fire map, it’s still about four miles west of us. I’ve been thru lots of smoky fire seasons now, but last night’s air was the worst ever.

  3. I know the fire is bad news for all but does anyone know how close it actually is to Elk Creek Meadows camping area off Elk Creek Road? Good Luck to all!

  4. Karen,

    I the fire made it to Stevensville is would be a disaster on a level wit the 1910. A fire the likes of which none of us has witnessed.

  5. We are home, evac was lifted yesterday (Sat.) though we’re on standby evac notice. The eastern line is secure and holding; last I heard, it’s still advancing to the north (wild land, no structures except for BPA transmission line towers). We are so grateful to everyone who fought this fire and stopped it one ridge away from our residential gulch.

    1. The east side of the fire is still spreading into the park; the north side is active also. Some portions of the southwest perimeter have moved very little if any in the last 24 hours.

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