Escaped prescribed fire near Helena, MT

Davis fire near Lincoln Montana
The map shows heat detected by satellites at 3:35 p.m. today from the Davis fire — in red southeast of Lincoln. Click to see a larger map.

UPDATE at 10:00 p.m. August 26:

KXLH is reporting that the fire has now burned about 2,800 acres and is threatening almost two dozen homes. Also:

On Thursday evening, fire officials held a town hall meeting to explain the situation. Forest Service Ranger Amber Kamps told the residents that when Forest Service officials began the prescribed burn on Wednesday, the weather was good. She said, “I can not tell you how sorry I am that we have to meet under these conditions. That you are having to go through this. I can’t make it up to you. I can just tell you I am sorry and we will do the best we can from this point forward,” Kamps says.


Davis fire near Helena and Lincoln
Davis fire, Aug. 26, 2010. Photo: markholyoak

Yesterday the Helena National Forest in Montana initiated a prescribed fire in the Virginia Creek area 11 miles southeast of Lincoln and 28 miles northwest of Helena. The fire weather forecast for today for western Montana included red flag warnings in three areas with the possibility of dry thunderstorms. Today the high temperature of 97 in Helena set a record that was two degrees higher than the highest ever recorded for this date. That, combined with strong winds and low humidities today contributed to “active burning and some spotting outside the planned fire area”, according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service.

At 1 p.m. today the Davis fire was officially declared escaped and was designated a wildland fire. reported that the fire was spotting a half mile to a mile ahead. The Associated Press reported that the fire was pushed by 30 to 35 mph winds.

As of 5 p.m. today it had burned about 1,000 acres, structures were threatened, and the Sheriff had ordered evacuations of homes located at the top of Stemple Pass Pass over to Highway 279 (Lincoln Road).

Yesterday at the RAWS station in Lincoln the maximum temperature was 86 degrees, the minimum relative humidity was 13%, and the winds gusted up to 15 mph. Today at the same weather station the high was 91, the RH was 14%, and the maximum wind gust was 25 with an average wind speed of 5-10 in the afternoon.

The USFS said the prescribed fire was within prescription when they ignited it on Wednesday.

The video below is from KXLH.

UPDATE on August 27, 2010

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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.

2 thoughts on “Escaped prescribed fire near Helena, MT”

  1. “We are Sorry” Yes you are! This weather perdiction reminded me of the events just before South Canyon. I hope no one gets injuried or (worst) while taking action on this fire. “If” the (ambulance chasing) attorneys will be lined-up in the hall and out into the street. Forget the weather forcast, we have already committed to purchase 200 bag lunches.

  2. I’ve seen the Ten Standard Fire Orders re-written, re-ordered, and de-emphasized three times in my career. Each time they are changed, it takes away from the intent and ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING from the original ORDERS that were based upon, researched, peer reviewed, and published BY EXPERTS following a trail of repeat errors with horrific and tragic results.

    We continue to repeat those same errors.

    The first Standard Fire Order used to be, “Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts”. It was placed in the #1 spot for a reason.

    The last Standard Fire Order used to be “Fight fire aggressively, but provide for safety first”.

    I was taught long ago… the first four will usually keep you safe…. Keep, Know, Base, Have… and numbers 5 through 9 were if you messed up or weird things happened on numbers 1-4…. they’d give you and your crew an out from the situation… and #10… It brings it all back full circle and places accountability on your shoulders.

    Undoubtedly, fire managers were being forced (once again) to “meet targets” on a marginally acceptable burn day by Line Officers… who could give a rats ass about the predicted weather, fire weather watches, and red flag warning…. but hey… “we’ve gotten away with it before”…. The fire guys will be the pawns for poor line officer direction ONCE AGAIN.

    #1: Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.

    #2: Know what your fire is doing at all times… observe personally… use scouts.

    #3: Base all actions on current and expected fire behavior.

    #4: Have escape routes for everyone and make them known.

    JMHO.. I feel for the folks on the fire folks on the Helena NF.. I’ve been in their shoes.


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