Map and update of Davis escaped prescribed fire near Helena

UPDATE @ 9:15 p.m. MT, Aug. 27

The U. S. Forest Service has lifted the evacuation orders for some areas. More information is at InciWeb. They are now saying the fire has burned 2,050 2,800 acres as of approximately 6 p.m. today and it is 20% 5% contained. Jess Secrest’s Type 2 Incident Management Team will assume command of the fire at 9 p.m. tonight.

The weather forecast for the fire area brings some good news, including a 50-60% chance of rain Saturday night and Sunday morning. On Saturday the temperature will be 55 to 70, depending on the elevation, and winds should be light and variable, becoming 5-10 out of the northeast on the ridge tops in the afternoon.

Ellen Bacca, the meteorologist for the Helena NBC station, posted some photos related to the fire. I believe they were taken from Helena.


UPDATE @ 11:00 a.m. MT, Aug. 27

The weather forecast is more favorable for firefighters on the Davis fire today than the weather conditions were on Wednesday and Thursday. The temperatures will be much cooler, maxing out at 53-58 at the fire, however it will still be breezy with west winds of 15-25 gusting up to 35 in the morning . The RAWS weather station at Lincoln, 11 miles northwest of the fire, received 0.04″ of rain at 2 a.m. today, Friday.


map of davis fire August 27 2010
The map of the Davis fire shows heat detected by satellites during the early morning on Aug. 27. Click to see a larger version of the map.

The updated map of the Davis fire, an escaped prescribed fire between Lincoln and Helena, Montana, shows that the fire has spread to the east near the eastern boundary of the Helena National Forest.

Davis fire map 3-D 8-27-2010
A 3-D map showing heat detected on the Davis fire by satellites early on Aug. 27. We are looking West. Stemple Pass Road is on the right side of the map and the USFS boundary is the yellow line. The Red areas indicate the most recent heat. Click to see a larger version of the map.

The latest official update from the U.S. Forest Service late Thursday night said the fire had burned 2,000 acres and that “Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton has ordered evacuations of homes located at the top of Stemple Pass over to Highway 279 (Lincoln Road)”. There are some media reports that the fire has burned 2,800 acres. has an article describing a public meeting on Thursday at which the USFS District Ranger for the area, Amber Kamps, talked about what they were thinking when they decided to conduct the prescribed fire on Wednesday. On Thursday the high temperature of 97 set a new record in Helena. Here is an excerpt from the article:

She said they got a “spot weather” report from the National Weather Service Tuesday, and again on Wednesday. The reports predicted temperatures around 70 degrees at the high elevation burn site on Granite Butte, relative humidity around 20 percent and winds less than 10 miles per hour — exactly what the Forest Service wanted — even though Helena’s high reached 90 degrees Wednesday.

“We had the green light with the weather conditions to move forward,” Kamps said, adding that the recent heavy rains, along with wet weather earlier this summer, caused her to believe that they could do the type of burns usually postponed until September or October.

They lit a test fire, but that didn’t catch well. Kamps said they almost decided the humidity was too high to go forward with the burn, but instead waited an hour and tried again, this time successfully.

Kamps said it wasn’t until later Wednesday afternoon that the red flag warning was issued.

“Before we got the red flag warning we had already shut down ignition,” Kamps said.

The fire was supposed to be in a 100-acre area. But Wednesday afternoon, it had jumped outside the boundary onto another 20 acres. For reasons not fully explained at Thursday night’s meeting, the fire wasn’t fully extinguished.

Greg Archie, who works for the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, is the incident commander for what’s now being called the Davis fire. He was helping the Forest Service with the prescribed burn Wednesday, and said that when they returned on Thursday morning, he brought “65 people to deal with that 20 acres.” They also had nine engines, three water tenders and a helicopter as they started the day.

“We were making pretty good headway collecting all the spots, controlling the 20-acre slop-over, when a spot came up that we hadn’t had any people on and were not aware of,” Archie said. “Once it got going and started to branch out in the subalpine fir, it’s pretty alarming in the way it can spread.”

The prescribed burn turned into a wildfire by 1 p.m. in the upper portion of Gould Creek, growing from 20 to 100 acres in an hour. Archie said they couldn’t safely put people on it, so they called for an air tanker and retardant, as well as other resources. By 8 p.m. the Davis fire was estimated to cover 2,800 acres.

Ryan Grady, who said he lost about 1,000 acres to the blaze, praised the firefighters for their effort.

“This was the greatest response I’ve ever seen,” he said.

But another woman tearfully noted how her two children were home alone at the time the fire exploded, and said had she known the Forest Service was going to set the prescribed burn she would have taken them with her.

“I could have lost my children,” she said.

We are working on more information and will post it here throughout the day.


Our original report on the fire.


UPDATE November 30, 2010:

The official report on the fire was released on November 24, 2010.

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+

10 thoughts on “Map and update of Davis escaped prescribed fire near Helena”

  1. This is just one more more example of a woman being pushed up the glass escalator into a management position for which she is not prepared. The feminist organizations have formed strong and intimidating (bullying) networks in many places. However, it is our government agencies and schools that provide the best opportunity for a poorly qualified woman to be pushed ahead. The game plan is always the same: in a less densely populated state, find low level management jobs out of siight somewhere, then after 6 months push the gal into the next level job, 6 months there. . . and always they are moving into more responsible decision making positions without the advantage of wise counsel coming from overhead–because they have not spent enough time in lower slots. Abu Gharib prison is another example of this process, as is Fionna and Hewlett Packard, as is so, so, so many.

    What is important in this geographical region is this: all of the residents need to come together and demand that she be removed from service in Montana. Montana being an ideal place to live and especially if you get paid Federal wages! This is too plum a job for someone like her and the assets are too too precious to loose for someone’s on the job training. The local residents must be absolutely sure they voice and make very clear repeatedly (over and over and over) they must make this point. I am sorry only counts on the school playground–it does not help repair the damage. In this case, this woman’s apology comes right out of the same play book–all the gals have this response memorized–“Iam sincerely sorry(now can I get back to enjoying my life?) Local residents MUST SAY NO TO THE “I AM SORRY”. Montana people are too easily encouraged to let things drop–they must not let this one drop!

  2. I am sorry but you are not correct. When gender is used to qualify an individual for a particular job–it can then be said that “gender” has a great deal to do with the subject under discussion. That subject being the eligibilty of the individual occupying the job. Let me see if I can make this clearer for you: when gender is included in the rankings for an individuals position then gender does indeed have something to do with the problem being discussed!

  3. Maybe it could be said like this: You are correct in that gender cannot determine a person’s skill. Yes, I agree with that, however when a person’s gender was used to give that person a job for which they have not acquired enough experience, or skills, then in fact gender did play a role in the current problem!

  4. I am from Lincoln MT and I can assure readers that there are no feminist organizations in Montana pushing or bullying anything or anyone.I am also an elderly woman and I WOULD HAVE NEVER authorized that burn so this is NOT a gender issue. I don’t know Amber Kamps personally; I have read her columns in the local newspaper for several years now. She is not inexperienced and she is no incompetent. I am not making any judgements at this point, believe me the people of Lincoln won’t let this die with the fire. I left Lincoln Thursday morning and am out of state presently. This website has been the only reliable source of information for me for the past 48 hours. Thanks again.

  5. It is far to early in the investigation of this escaped prescribed fire to blame the District Ranger, the person who supervises every USFS employee on that district. Let’s wait until the facts are determined before we start pointing fingers. I have not seen an organizational chart for the District, but there is no doubt that there are some wildland fire subject matter experts on the District or Forest who wrote the prescribed fire plan and gave advice to the District Ranger.

    1. I will agree with Bill that untill the investigation is done it’s not a time to point fingers or find blame. Who would want to lose their career due to a inaccurate sound byte or moment of film, as one recent USDA employee did.

  6. If there is any blame it is not enough controlled burn.I travel along Hwy 200 from Elk Meadows and see all kinds of forest that could burn and destroy my home.For years I have been clear cutting a fire wall around my house just to give me a fighting chance.There could be employment here just to help the forest service cut down all those dead trees.

  7. Reading and reviewing the report would be comical if this didn’t cost the taxpayers 3 million dollars. The report goes into great detail on the qualifications of all personnel involved in the decision making process that lead up to the fire, including the Forest Supervisor, and District Ranger, including classes or terms like; Fire Management for Line Officers, National Fire Management Leadership, Fire Program Management, (M-581) and the list goes on. Obviously in spite of all the qualifications these people had it served no public good did it? It’s unfortunate that there’s no class on “COMMON SENSE”.

    Mr. Riordan made this comment, “I think there are some small pieces of something that adds up to be a bigger thing”. That’s a real gem of a statement from a Forest Supervisor, he thinks…holy cow?

    It’s very clear that Management on the Helena National Forest live in a culture of self justification. I would like to know how many other fires got away from the people responsible for this fire. I am not opposed to controlled burns and have witnessed firsthand the benefits of fire on our ecosystem; I just ask that we take decision making authority away from all the people responsible for this fire, including and especially the District Ranger, and the Forest Supervisor.

    Finally, why should the taxpayers pay for stupid…..I believe that the Helena National Forest should bear the burden of paying for the suppression effort and it should come directly out of their budget, not the national fund.

    1. Lyle, I agree with you, that common sense is far too uncommon. They should not have to train you in prescribed fire classes to actually READ the latest spot weather forecast before lighting the match, or not to even think about setting the woods on fire during a near-record heat wave.

      The report mentions several little items in the prescribed fire plan that should have been better, but the BEST and most EXPERIENCED prescribed burners pay little to attention to documents after they have been written and approved. They rely on common sense, intelligence, self-awareness, experience, weather forecasts, fuel conditions, and input from their colleagues.

      By the way, our article on the official report about the fire is at:

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