Firefighters on the Sheep Fire incorporate train into their suppression tactics

The Sheep Fire, burning near the BNSF railroad tracks just south of Essex, Montana, has caused the intermittent closure of the tracks to Amtrak and BNSF trains. Since it is in the best interests of the railroad and the firefighters to suppress the fire as quickly as possible, BNSF is cooperating in various ways, including transporting fire personnel in a caboose car and using a crane and flat cars to remove slash from a shaded fuel break being constructed by feller-bunchers.

The Sheep Fire, part of the Thompson-Divide Complex, has burned about 2,100 acres on the Flathead National Forest.

Below is a video showing the feller-bunchers in action, and after that is a slide show of photos taken by Jonathan Moor of the Information organization on the fire. Mr. Moor also shot the video.


Wildfire activity developed quickly in Montana and northern Idaho

Canadian CV-580

Two CV-580s borrowed from Saskatchewan. USFS photo.

As a result of intense thunderstorm activity last week with little or no rain, wildfire activity has developed significantly recently in Montana and northern Idaho, part of the Northern Rockies Geographic Area.

Resources in the area are stretched thin. All of their Type 1 and Type 2 Incident Management Teams are committed to fires. Multiple fires are being combined into “complexes” run by one IMT.

To help mitigate the situaion, the following Canadian assets have been assigned to the Northern Rockies Geographic Area: five 20-person Type 1 crews; one Fire Behavior Analyst; 20 smokejumpers;  and three CV580 air tankers.

Below are excerpts from a report issued by the Northern Rockies Coordinating Group:

“…The Northern Rockies Coordination Center is reporting 30 large fires, many of which are multi-fire complexes, with incident management teams managing multiple fires. This number does not include many smaller fires managed locally. The largest single fire, the Thompson Fire in Glacier National Park, is 13,680 acres. The largest complex of fires is the Clearwater Complex at more than 43,000 acres in Idaho. Not included in the overall tally are smaller fires that are being staffed with local responders and an immense workload related to initial attack for new fire starts. Combine that with the demands for resources around the nation and it’s a challenging proposition for fire managers.

The challenge will be to allocate resources – aircraft, crews, engines and heavy equipment with proper supervision – to the existing fires, and still maintain capacity to quickly respond to new fires. Additionally, the Northern Rockies Coordinating Group will have the task of prioritizing the needs for all incidents and allocating a limited number of resources – requests for which exceed what’s currently available.

If there’s good news amidst the flurry of fire activity, it’s that additional help from the Montana Air National Guard as well as from Canada have arrived and are available for assignment. The Guard became available after Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s Emergency Declaration over the weekend. Similar declarations have been made for several counties in Idaho. The Canadian resources are available through an agreement between the USDA Forest Service, Montana, Idaho and several western states and Canadian provinces.

Firefighters will also catch a break with a favorable weather forecast for most of the week, though there will be an increase in westerly winds on Friday. Fortunately, this will be followed by cooler temperatures and higher humidities in the weekend.”


Smoke from fire in Washington creating concern in Montana

smoke Wolverine Fire Montana

Smoke from the Wolverine Fire in north-central Washington travels into Idaho and northern Montana Sunday afternoon. (click to enlarge)

Smoke from the Wolverine Fire in north-central Washington is creating some concern in northern Montana. Some residents smelling the smoke that is blowing into Idaho and Montana are assuming the fire is nearby, but it is actually 300 to 600 miles away, depending on where you are in Montana. Some people in the state are searching for phrases on the internet such as “current Montana wildfire”.

At this time, there are no large, active fires in Montana, except for the Reynolds Fire in Glacier National Park which occasionally sends up a burst of smoke when a patch of vegetation burns out. Some residents in the state could be smelling that as well, since it was putting up some smoke on Sunday and merging with the Wolverine Fire smoke.

More information about the Wolverine Fire on Wildfire Today.

Below are two smoke maps. The first documents the distribution of wildfire smoke as of 4 p.m. MT, August 2. The next is a forecast for smoke at 8 p.m. MT, August 2.

wildfire smoke

Map of wildfire smoke at 4 p.m. MT, August 2, 2015.

smoke forecast

Smoke forecast for 8 p.m. MT, August 8, 2015.



Reynolds Creek Fire on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP

(UPDATE at 8:30 a.m. MT, July 28, 2015)

Reynolds Creek Fire

Undated NPS photo of the Reynolds Creek Fire, Glacier National Park.

The Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park in northwest Montana has been relatively quiet recently due to occasional rain. Heavy thundershowers on Monday kept helicopters on the ground for part of the day, but transported cargo when conditions permitted.

Firefighters are removing hazardous trees along Going-to-the-Sun Road which remains closed. Other areas closed include Logan Pass, the Rising Sun Motor Inn, and the Rising Sun Campground.


(UPDATE at 11:45 a.m. MT, July 26, 2015)

Skycrane helicopter Reynolds Fire

A Skycrane helicopter drops on the Reynolds Fire. Undated photo from InciWeb.

For the last two days, firefighters, aided by the weather, have been able to minimize any additional growth of the Reynolds Creek Fire burning in Glacier National Park in northwest Montana.

On Saturday crews took advantage of cooler temperatures to build new fireline and reinforce other lines along the St. Mary River, and extinguished spot fires near the southwest edge of the fire. Firefighters began laying hose along firelines to assist with mopup from Rising Sun to the northeast end of the fire.

Fireline explosives will be used Sunday to build fireline in an avalanche chute containing heavy brush and downed logs. The sound of the blast will be audible in the town of St. Mary, and is expected in the early afternoon.

The explosive firefighters use is about 1¼ inches in diameter and 50 feet long; it looks like a long strand of sausage links. The rope-like material is filled with a gel-like PETN material that explodes at 22,000 feet per second after being ignited with one detonation cap. Since the material comes in 50-foot sections, it can be laid out as far as a crew wants to build fire line. It is stored on spools which allow it to be unrolled as firefighters walk over the desired location for the fireline.

The Incident Management Team, led by Incident Commander Greg Poncin, reports that the fire has burned 3,158 acres.

In addition to blowing things up, Sunday personnel on the fire will also continue direct attack supported by aircraft, and expect to be dropping snags and clearing debris near the Going-to-the-Sun Road.


(UPDATE at 9:21 a.m. MT, July 25, 2015)

The Reynolds Creek Fire not long after it started on July 21, 2015. Photo by park volunteer Pam Smith.

The Reynolds Creek Fire not long after it started on July 21, 2015. Photo by park volunteer Pam Smith.

The Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park has not spread a great deal over the last two days. More accurate mapping shows that it has burned about 3,100 acres. Examples of some of these more accurate maps are below. Click on them to see larger versions.

Reynolds Creek Fire map 3-d

3-D map of the Reynolds Creek Fire, 10 p.m. July 24, 2015.

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Cabin Gulch Fire, east of Townsend, MT

(UPDATED at 10:26 a.m. MT, July 22, 2015)

The Cabin Gulch Fire that started Tuesday morning 13 miles east of Townsend, Montana grew quickly toward the northeast during the day and at last count had burned approximately 2,500 acres.

On Tuesday the firefighting resources working the fire included 3 helicopters, 6 single engine air tankers (SEATs), 4 Interagency Hot Shot crews, 3 20-person hand crews, and multiple engines.


Highway 20 is closed in the Deep Creek Canyon area.


(Originally published at 7:36 p.m. MT, July 21, 2015)

map Cabin Gulch Fire

Heat detected on the Cabin Gulch Fire by a satellite at at 2:30 p.m. MT, July 21, 2015.

The Cabin Gulch Fire was reported in the late morning on Tuesday and has quickly grown into a large fire topped by an impressive convection column of smoke. The fire is 13 miles east of Townsend, Montana and has forced the closure of Highway 12 and the evacuation of 45 properties.

Helena National Forest spokeswoman Kathy Bushnell says the fire has burned about 400 acres and is spreading from grass and brush into timbered areas.


Two people ordered to pay $9,450 for starting wildfire with exploding target

Two people have been ordered to pay $9,450 restitution for starting the Three Mile Fire nine miles east of Florence, Montana in August, 2014 that burned about 50 acres before firefighters extinguished it at a cost estimated at $94,000. Tristan C. Olson, 30, of Missoula and Caitlin E. Hoover, 28, of Stevensville, Montana agreed to the settlement in exchange for the felony charges being dropped. They will also have to follow specific conditions for three years, including abstaining from the consumption of alcohol and drugs or entering bars or casinos.

The fire started when an exploding target was detonated in a tree surrounded by waist-high cured grass.

Mountain lion cubs

Two mountain lion cubs that were rescued in the fire. Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

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, 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.

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years and 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.