The Wellnitz Fire in Nebraska burned to about 60,000 acres with just 20 percent containment today, according to Jerry Kearns with the Rushville Volunteer Fire Department. The Sheridan County Journal Star reported that 34 members of the Army Nebraska National Guard’s Chadron-based 1057th light/medium truck company showed up on the fire this morning. The fire is burning east of the 87,000-acre Region 23 Complex, comprised of the the Douthit and West Ash fires.
Darrell Hartmann photo
The Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team A has been ordered for the Wellnitz (Metcalf) Fire in Sheridan County.
KCSR News reported that an area of about 46,000 acres in the Pine Ridge area of northern Sheridan County is now involved, and a report on sheridancountynebraska.com said that crews from over 20 area volunteer fire departments are fighting the fire. About 50 households in the sparsely inhabited area were warned to evacuate – 20 of those were mandatory evacuation orders.
UPDATE 22:41 PDT: The inciweb site has the Region 23 Complex tonight at 47 percent containment at 87,555 acres. The two fires in that complex are the Douthit Fire northwest of Crawford and the West Ash fire southeast of Crawford and south of Chadron. The IMT reported that one of the DC-10 airtankers made three drops for a total of 36,000 gallons of retardant.
Fire managers have set up a new camp in the West Fork of the Bitterroot to engage the Montana portion of an enormous Idaho wildfire that has burned over into Montana.
A roll-over vehicle accident occurred in the Sage Creek area this afternoon; one person was transported and admitted to a local hospital.
The complex is just 16 percent contained tonight at well over 205,000 acres [map]. A couple hundred firefighters will be assigned to the new fire camp.
Mustang Fire along the Salmon River – USFS photo
Brian Harris, a fire information officer on the Mustang Complex, said the fire’s burned to within a couple of miles of the Hughes Creek area of the West Fork of the Bitterroot.
“This fire is so large and so massive and the weather has been so uncooperative that firefighters have only been able to put speed bumps in front of the fire in an attempt to slow it down,” Harris said.
He said crews are installing sprinklers and removing fuels in some areas. USFS Darby District Ranger Chuck Oliver said there’s some concern about the proximity of the fire to the Lost Trail Ski Area – not far from a contentious area of late with locals because of the ski cabin built and run by locals who have recently been unjustly stiffed by the USFS.
Late Thursday afternoon, the fire was about 12 air miles away from the ski area.
“We don’t want to give people any indication that the fire is imminent,” Oliver said. “We are just beginning to talk about the what-ifs so we can start preparing contingency plans should the fire move this way.”
The fire took off and made a 30,000-acre run on Tuesday. Air quality conditions in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys had deteriorated by Thursday afternoon, according to the Billings Gazette, from smoke pouring in from Idaho.
Fires are burning hundreds of thousands of acres of prime hunting ground in central Idaho. But Mike Demick with Idaho Fish and Game says hunters don’t need to worry about a ruined season. “It may affect where they want to go or where they went in the past, but overall the fires are a small percentage,” Demick told KBOI News. “There’s still millions and millions of acres out there where people can hunt.”
He explained that wildfires benefit the habitat for wildlife, producing more open country with grass and forage for big game species.
Just don’t get trapped.
The Alpine Lake Fire northwest of Lander, Wyoming, roared down a mountain toward five fishermen camped at a favorite spot. Twenty-two miles into the rugged Wind River Range on August 13, San Diego angler Larry Landeros, his father-in-law, his brother-in-law, and two friends watched as the forest around them went up in flames.
The Casper Star Tribune reported that Landeros, an officer with the California Highway Patrol, has been fishing Alpine Lake for 25 years. The group made a 10-hour horseback trip into the area. They saw a small smoke column off in the distance but weren’t too concerned about it; their outfitter rode back out and reported the fire the next day.
The next day, though, a helicopter landed at the lake and firefighters came out of the forest and told the fishermen that the fire had surged and jumped over part of the lake and river. The fire was under a hundred yards from the lake. They pulled their tents and carried their stuff onto a green, grassy peninsula that stretched out from shore into the lake; the fire torched up in the middle of the night, but the fishermen were safe on their little peninsula.
Their outfitter, meanwhile, learned from the USFS that the way in was blocked by fire and he couldn’t go back in after the fishermen. A helicopter took them out the next day, flying them out in three separate trips.
Heads up out there, people.
The Parish Cabin Fire in eastern Oregon trapped a Portland couple who were bowhunting in the wilderness; they managed to make it to safety without a helicopter evacuation.
Firewise communities are designated to ensure protection against wildfires, and they’re more important than ever in drought years with huge fuel loads and diminished firefighting resources.
“It’s kind of scary right now with all the wildfires because it’s just so dry,” said Mary Hayenga with the Mountain Plains 2 subdivision homeowner’s association. “Our goal is to make sure everyone has taken the necessary steps to protect their property from wildfire.” Hayenga heads up Firewise efforts in her neighborhood in Spearfish, South Dakota, and the Black Hills Pioneer reports that residents recently received a Firewise award for 10 years of participation in the program.
“If we can save one home,” she said,, “it’s worth the effort, because all we keep hearing is that it’s not a matter of if … it’s a matter of when.”
The Firewise Communities Program encourages local solutions for wildfire safety by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters, and others in reducing the risk wildfires in their area. The program through the National Fire Protection Association is co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters.
Hayenga said that after the Maitland Road and Jasper wildfires 12 years ago, the subdivision’s residents formed a wildfire committee to encourage homeowners to reduce fuel loading on their properties. They also made efforts reduce dead wood by fighting the pine beetle, which before this year’s flight had infested more than 144,000 acres of national forest lands. In 2002, the committee formed a Firewise plan and conducted tours of area homes to assess the situation. Hayenga said homeowners have been enthusiastic about reducing fuels on their property or have hired loggers to handle the task.
Firefighters struggled yesterday in fighting Montana wildfires that have burned homes and caused injuries. One new fire was reported south of Ashland, and two others erupted in Gallatin Canyon south of Bozeman. One of the Gallatin Canyon fires was contained by late afternoon. The 19 Mile Fire is about 2 percent contained at 4,000 acres; it’s southeast of Butte, south of I-90 and north of Highway 2. Firefighters are working on structure protection in the Whiskey Gulch area.
The 19 Mile fire torched this and other residences on Thursday. Photo by Steve DiGiovanna, Madison County Disaster & Emergency Services.
According to an AP report, a new wildfire in Paradise Valley near Yellowstone National Park took off Wednesday and resulted in minor injuries to firefighters and members of the public. The Pine Creek Fire caught residents unaware; they were forced to flee the village of Pine Creek, south of Livingston, without packing any bags. Park County Commissioner Marty Malone said about 200 people live in the area and that some tried to fight the fire themselves, including a man who turned a hose on the flames until the power to an electric water pump was cut off by the fire and the water stopped running.
The fire’s now at 12,000 acres with zero containment; a red flag warning is in effect through Saturday. There are approximately 150 personnel assigned, including two hotshot crews, nine engines, two water tenders, two dozers, and four helicopters. Additional resources will be arriving throughout the day.
Pine Creek Fire Map 08/30/2012 @ 9 a.m.
Some residents have been allowed back to their homes. East River Road is closed from the north junction at highway 89 down to just south of Barney Creek. Pine Creek Road is also closed. Areas that are still closed to all residents are those that live on Deep Creek Road, Deep Creek Bench Road, and Deep Creek Road South Fork. The area from Pool Creek down south to Barney Creek is closed to all residents, and also along Pine Creek Road.
High temperatures and erratic winds have pushed the fires through drought-dry fuels. With nine large fires burning in Montana, officials said there was increasing competition for adequate equipment and personnel. “We are making do with what we can get,” said U.S. Forest Service information officer Karen Tuscano.
A 64-year-old Chadron woman died Wednesday during evacuations ahead of the West Ash Creek Fire in northwest Nebraska. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Chadron dispatch logged a call from a neighbor, who discovered the woman with breathing difficulties when they went to check on her during the evacuation. The sheriff’s department and an ambulance responded; she was pronounced dead at the hospital. Preliminary reports are that the cause of death was a heart attack.
The sheriff’s department evacuated about 150 Dawes County residents and closed Chadron State Park. The sheriff has since issued a mandatory evacuation for residents in the west and south of the Metcalf Wildlife Area north of Hays Springs, because of a third fire in that area.
The Region 23 Complex fires have burned nearly 69,000 acres; the complex comprises two fires, the West Ash Fire near Chadron, and the Douthit Fire near Crawford. Containment this morning is estimated at 25 percent.
The fires were estimated at only 1,300 acres on Wednesday, but grew quickly as hot winds pushed flames through the dry timber and grasslands. Smoke forced additional road closures on Sand Creek, Cottonwood Road, and Highway 20 west of Fort Robinson. Sections of Table Road near Willow Creek Church are closed because of increased fire activity in the area. Highway 385 is open, but controlled in areas with one-lane traffic and pilot car.
The Lincoln Journal-Star reported that the two fires in Dawes County were started by lightning Tuesday. One is south of Chadron and the other’s burning between the smaller towns of Harrison and Crawford. State officials also were responding to fires in Sheridan and Sioux counties, all in the Nebraska Panhandle. Gov. Dave Heineman on Thursday dispatched the state’s mobile operations center to the region.