UPDATE: Rekindled controlled burn caused Montana fire near ski area

Update 5:30 p.m. MDT: 

New maps have updated the West Fork fire perimeter to 400 acres, down from an estimated 700 as of Saturday night.

Seventy people are working on the fire, including crews from Red Lodge Rural 7 and the U.S. Forest Service. Crews determined that the fire threatened 30 structures, although none were damaged or destroyed. There were no evacuations on Sunday and the Red Lodge Mountain ski area was operational on Sunday.

The fire was estimated to be 20 percent contained as of early Sunday evening. In a post on its Facebook page, Red Lodge Fire Rescue said:

“(The) fire was believed to have been rekindled from a controlled burn that was started last (Wednesday), when there was still snow on the ground. Yesterday’s high wind and temperature brought it back.”

fire image


Original post:

A wildfire a few miles from the southern Montana town of Red Lodge forced a brief evacuation of the local ski area, Red Lodge Mountain, on Saturday afternoon, the Billings-Gazette reported. 

A controlled burn on private land might have ignited the wildfire when it was fanned by winds and spread out of control on Saturday. Incident reports show that fire was human caused, with an investigation on-going. By Saturday night it had burned more than 700 acres.

Officially named the West Fork fire, the blaze has been working its way through timber, grass and sagebrush. The ski area was evacuated around 2:30 p.m. as a precautionary move and to allow fire crews better access, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service told The Associated Press. 

The ski area was closed for a few hours; officials with Red Lodge Mountain said that the area will be open on Sunday.

Conditions at the resort are warm and dry, and it has been more than three days since the area last saw snowfall, according to forecast histories. Snowpack in the Upper Yellowstone basin, where the ski area is, was below average, according to the most recent measurements taken by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The basin’s snowpack came in at 89 percent of normal as of measurements posted on March 29.

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Montana firefighter charged with arson

Firestone Flats Fire

Firestone Flats Fire. Inciweb photo.

A firefighter in Montana is being charged with arson after admitting to starting multiple wildfires. One of the largest was the Firestone Flats Fire that burned 1,570 acres 25 miles north of Missoula, Montana in July and August of 2013.

Below is an excerpt from the Lake County Leader:

Phillip “Cody” Haynes, a wildland firefighter for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, told investigators he had started seven forest fires in the past three years, according to Lake County Prosecutor Steve Eschenbacher.
Haynes, who was charged with felony arson, appeared before District Court Judge Deborah K. Christopher March 19 for arraignment where Haynes requested legal counsel. Haynes is to be arraigned March 26.

Haynes did not admit to the alleged crimes until a CSKT fire investigator, two other CSKT firemen and a Lake County sheriff’s detective convinced him to confess.
According to court documents, Haynes took responsibility for setting several fires last year: the South Finley fire on July 28, the Saddle Mountain Fire on Aug. 18, the Hammer Fire on Aug. 25, as well as the Arlee Pines fire on July 17, 2013, and the Firestone Fire in July 2013.

On August 1, 2013 the following resources were assigned to the fire: Bob Fry’s, Western Montana Incident Management Team, 384 firefighters and support personnel, 3 Hotshot Crews, 6 other Hand Crews,19 Engines, 2 Helicopters, 12 pieces of Heavy Equipment, 7 Water Tenders, and 2 Heavy Air Tankers were available.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.


Firefighter’s film-making son invited to the White House

Noah Gue President Obama

Noah Gue talks with President Obama in the White House. Photo credit, White House.

The six-year-old son of a wildland firefighter was one of 15 filmmakers to be invited to show a video at a film festival at the White House. Noah Gue worked with his father, Michael Gue, a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service in Bozeman, Montana, to make the film to help raise awareness of climate change and inspire conservation. Noah’s parents produced the film in which he is the on-screen narrator. He also got a credit for editing. The film was selected to be shown Friday at the second White House Student Film Festival.

Noah Gue President Obama

Noah Gue high-fives President Obama in the White House. Photo credit: Photo by Jacquelyn Martin.

Noah Gue Hilary Swank

Noah Gue talks with Hilary Swank in the White House. Photo by Jake Rosenberg.

The fact that Noah had a loose front tooth did not escape the notice of President Obama who mentioned it in his opening remarks at the event. Here are some excerpts from the official transcript:

Thank you so much, everybody! Have a seat. Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to the second annual White House Film Festival. (Applause.) It’s like the Sundance or Cannes of film festivals that are open to the public through a government website. (Laughter.) It may also be the only film festival where one of the entrants has his tooth loose. (Laughter.) And may pull it out right here at the ceremony. (Laughter.)

[and later]

…Today, we’re celebrating a 6-year-old in Montana. Is that you? (Applause.) He’s the guy without — he’s missing teeth. (Laughter.) But he’s also challenging us to see conservation through a child’s eyes…

Noah’s father, Michael, is a prolific photographer, as is his wife who is a wedding photographer. We have featured Michael’s fire pictures a couple of times on Wildfire Today, HERE and HERE. His Instagram account has over 7,000 followers…

Congratulations to Noah and Michael!


Legislation introduced in Montana to fine feds for wildfire smoke

Beaver Fire

Smoke rises from the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

In recent summers, Gallatin Valley residents have sometimes had to endure poor air quality from wildfire smoke, so a Bozeman legislator wants Montana to be able to fine the federal government for that.

In a Natural Resources Committee hearing this week, Rep. Tom Burnett, R-Bozeman, presented House Bill 340, which would require the Department of Environmental Quality “to fine the federal government for fires on certain federal lands that contribute to exceedance of air quality standards.”

Burnett provided the committee a graphic of the smoke from wildfires in 2012 and the readings from the 11 DEQ monitoring stations in Montana, most of which registered unhealthy air quality on various days.
“Smoke pollution compromises public health. Under this bill, the DEQ determines whether mismanaged federal lands are responsible for any part of breaching of the air standard. If they are, the federal government is corrected in the same way an industrial polluter would be,” Burnett said at the Wednesday hearing. “Federal land managers should manage the forests so it does not cause air pollution.”…


Arson charges filed against two who started fire with exploding target, orphaning mountain lion cubs

Mountain lion cubs

Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

Felony arson charges have been filed against two people who allegedly started the Three Mile Fire nine miles east of Florence, Montana in August, 2014. The fire burned about 50 acres before firefighters extinguished it at a cost estimated at $94,000.

During the initial attack on the fire, Bitterroot National Forest firefighters rescued a pair of mountain lion cubs. The kittens, just a few weeks old, were taking shelter under a burning log. Firefighters called in a helicopter bucket drop to cool the log, and the kittens, although wet from the 600 gallons of water, were rescued. They were adopted by the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium, and on September 23 made an appearance on David Letterman’s show along with Jack Hanna.

The two people being charged were busted at least in part by writing about their adventure on Facebook that amounted to a confession. They should also be charged with Felony Dumb.

Below are excerpts from an article in the Missoulian:

Tristan C. Olson, 30, of Missoula and Caitlin E. Hoover, 28, of Stevensville are scheduled to appear Feb. 17 on a series of felony charges stemming from the Aug. 29, 2014, fire on the Three Mile Wildlife Management Area.

The fire was started by an exploding target that was lodged in a tree surrounded by waist-high cured grass. The explosion ignited the tree and the fire quickly spread.

On Aug. 29, Hoover posted on Facebook: “My old pal Tristan Olson just showed up at mi casa and woke me up with a mikes hard ass slurpie and some guns and ammo…heading for the hills…ha! Yay!!!”

The last post on Olson’s Facebook page for the same day showed a photograph of a column of smoke rising above the Three Mile WMA fire with Olson’s back facing the camera. The caption read: “Dang…”


After receiving a search warrant for Hoover’s Facebook account, the affidavit said the warden found she had deleted photos of the two shooting together on the WMA.

He also found a conversation that Hoover had with someone named “Topher Devoe” on Sept. 21. In answering Devoe’s question of “what other crazy things have you done,” Hoover responded: “I just started a forest fire by shooting an assault rifle at an exploding target and burnt down 60 acres of forest. Shhh the fire is still under investigation.”

Hoover attached the photo of the Olson watching the smoke rising from the WMA.

We have written about exploding targets many times before. The dangerous devices consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile.

Exploding targets have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years. They have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen causing his death. The Missoulian reported that two years ago a woman in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about 150 feet away.

The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in the Northern Region, which includes Montana. The Three Mile Fire occurred on state protected land in a Wildlife Management Area where target shooting is not permissible. The state of Montana has not taken action to specifically prohibit the use of exploding targets, although they can become illegal when fire restrictions are in place.

Orphaned mountain lion cubs fire

The orphaned cubs after being adopted. Photo by the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.