Montana: West Mullan Fire

(UPDATE at 8:40 a.m. MDT, July 20, 2013)

Map of West Mullan Fire,
3-D Map of West Mullan Fire, looking northeast, at 11 p.m. MDT, July 29, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The West Mullan fire was active on the east and west sides Friday. See below for more details.


(UPDATE at 8:55 p.m. MDT, July 19, 2013)

The Incident Management Team announced this afternoon that effective immediately, the mandatory evacuation order and road closure in and around Superior, MT are being changed. West Mullan Road is open to the public east of Sunflower Lane. West of Sunflower Lane it is open to residents only. Flat Creek Road within the city limits is open. East Mullan Road is open to everyone. Flat Creek Road outside the city limit remains closed and under mandatory evacuation. Pardee Creek, Keystone Creek, and LaVista Roads remain closed and under mandatory evacuation. Big Eddy Fishing Access is closed.


(UPDATE at 10:41 a.m. MDT, July 19, 2013)

Staging area at West Mullan Fire
Staging area at West Mullan Fire, July 15, 2013. InciWeb photo

The latest size estimate of the West Mullan Fire is 4,550 acres with 23 percent containment. They provided this update Thursday night:

Firefighters were able to make significant progress today limiting further expansion of the fire. Crews cleaned-up the fire’s edge on the southeast flank and expanded the line on the western perimeter. The fire was allowed to burn down toward Flat Creek Road and Superior where preparations were in place to stop further spread. Engines and hoses were present around buildings to provide structure protection.

Dozer and hand line was constructed on the western edge coming upslope from the Dry Creek area. Crews worked along Keystone Road in preparation for advance of the fire downslope from the ridge. Progress on the northern edge was limited because of firefighter safety concerns.

A road block is in place on the bridge in Superior crossing the Clark Fork River restricting access to the north. Pardee Road, East Pardee Road, West Mullan Road, Flat Creek Road, East Mullan Road to Big Eddy Fishing Access site, LaVista Road, and Keystone Road are under mandatory evacuation. An emergency center has been established at the Superior Elementary School by the Red Cross.

On Friday firefighters will continue to protect structures, and will remove hazardous trees and vegetation along Keystone Creek Road to prepare for a possible burnout operation. Crews will also be working along the ridge between Keystone and Pardee Creeks constructing fireline. Dozers and hand crews will work along the northwest section of the fire constructing line. Crews will finish preparing line for any required burnout operations in Wood Gulch.

A larger version of the map below can be found on InciWeb.

Map of West Mullan Fire, July 18, 2013
Map of West Mullan Fire, July 18, 2013


(UPDATE at 3:32 p.m. MDT, July 18, 2013)

The video below has some interesting imagery shot on the West Mullan Fire on July 16.

The Mineral County Sheriff has extended the existing mandatory evacuation order to residents of the Keystone area near the West Mullan Fire. Residents along Keystone and LaVista Roads are being notified to evacuate. A roadblock is being established off of I-90 at Exit 43, Dry Creek exit. Access will be allowed to Sloway Road through this roadblock.

Firefighters had to disengage from the West Mullan Fire Wednesday when thunderstorms moved into the area along with winds that caused the fire to move in variable directions.

Below is an update from the Incident Management Team:

On the west side the fire has crossed Pardee Creek and moved upslope to the ridgetop above Keystone Creek. The fire expanded downslope the east side into the Flat Creek drainage. The decision to disengage fire personnel from their suppression line work was made and air operations continued as the primary attempt to hold the fire. On the north side, fire spread continued toward the BPA powerline.

The fire has grown to 3,650 acres and the incident commander is calling it 20 percent contained.

Resources working on the fire include 479 personnel, 14 hand crews, 25 engines, 3 dozers, 5 water tenders, 7 helicopters, and a variable number of fixed wing air tankers.


(UPDATE at 10 p.m. MDT, July 17, 2013)

West Mullan Fire, 8 p.m. July 17, 2013
West Mullan Fire, 8 p.m. July 17, 2013. Photo by Amy Sisk, who was on a flight from Billings to Seattle. Used with permission.

New evacuations are now in effect for the West Mullan Fire near Superior, Montanta, which has now burned 2,100 acres. According to the Incident Management Team, West Mullan and East Mullan Road from Sunflower Lane to Big Eddy and side roads between are now under mandatory evacuation, as is Flat Creek Road. Pardee and East Pardee Creeks and part of West Mullan Road remain under mandatory evacuation.

Below is an update from the IMTeam at 9 p.m. Wednesday:

“Storms predicted for the area did not occur in the immediate vicinity of the fire today, but strong winds did develop in the afternoon. This pushed the fire to the north and east toward Flat Creek. The fire moved over the ridge on the southeast side and approached Jim Creek. It is not yet on the face of the slope above Flat Creek. Fire also made a run on the northwest edge between two existing roads. The fire has crossed Pardee Creek and moved northwest of the ridge between Pardee and Keystone Creeks.

Over 20,000 gallons of retardant and 700,000 gallons of water were dumped on the eastern and northeastern flanks of the fire.

Operations tonight will continue to monitor the fire and take suppression actions where appropriate. Fire hoses are being laid above residences in Superior. Tomorrow, crews will work along Flat Creek to prepare for suppression actions up to Wood Creek with the intent to join with the line coming from Pardee Creek.

Additional crews and engines have been arriving and more have been ordered to help with the effort. Superior VFD has requested mutual aid support from other fire departments in Montana.”


(UPDATE at 8:27 p.m. MDT, July 16, 2013)

The incident management team reports that the West Mullan Fire has burned 1,800 acres and they are calling it 15% contained.The following is an update from the IMTeam at 8 p.m. tonight:

Today’s operations saw good progress at line construction along the southwest boundary of the fire above Pardee Creek. The plan is to continue line construction to the road and to advance the line upslope toward other existing roads. The primary concern is along the south side of the fire where there is potential for burning logs rolling downhill and advancing the fire toward Clark Fork River. Air operations delivered about 26 loads of fire retardant between Pardee and Flat Creeks to hold the fire.

Crews will be working the south and western sides of the fire tonight and monitoring for any significant spread or burning logs rolling down slope. Minor burnout of unburned fuel will occur when there is opportunity tonight.

Resources assigned to the fire include 353 personnel, 9 hand crews, 22 engines, 3 dozers, and six helicopters.

The weather today as recorded by the nearby Pardee weather station showed winds that were different from those predicted. The actual winds were out of the northwest, north-northwest, and north at 10 to 17 gusting up to 27, while the prediction was for east winds of 10 to 14 mph gusting up to 22 mph.

The forecast for fire area at the 5,000-foot level Wednesday calls for 82 degrees, relative humidity of 32 percent, a southeast to west wind at 5 to 13 gusting up to 21, a sky cover of 36 to 59 percent, and a 50 percent chance of precipitation decreasing to 16 percent in the evening.


(UPDATE at 7:55 a.m. MDT, July 16, 2013)

Map of West Mullan Fire at 1:35 a.m., July 16, 2013
Map of West Mullan Fire at 1:35 a.m., July 16, 2013, showing heat detected by a satellite, which can be as much as a mile in error.

The West Mullan Fire continued to burn actively throughout the night, Pat McKelvey the Information Officer for Incident Management Team told us this morning. Tom Heintz’s Type 2 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire at 9 p.m. Monday.

The fire is burning in steep terrain without many opportunities for engine crews to work the fire except near the residences on the edge of Superior along West Mullan Road. The fire is on the north side of Interstate 90, which has remained open, but traffic sometimes gets slowed as drivers gawk at the fire and aircraft overhead.

Monday night there were 177 personnel assigned. Today they expect to have two hotshot crews, seven Type 2 hand crews, two dozers, and nine engines working on the fire.

Data from the nearby weather station became unavailable after 2:59 a.m. today. This seems to be a problem affecting many Remote Automatic Weather Stations around the country.


(Originally published at 8 p.m. MDT, July 15, 2013; we will update this article as needed)

Map of West Mullan Fire, July 15, 2013
Vicinity map of West Mullan Fire, July 15, 2013 near Superior, MT

A new fire in Montana 50 air miles northwest of Missoula could have some potential unless firefighters receive some help from the weather over the next 48 hours. The West Mullan Fire started at 5 p.m. Sunday about a mile northwest of the community of Superior and by mid-day Monday had blackened an estimated 700 acres.

It was creating a great deal of heat easily detected by a satellite that overflew the fire at 2:36 p.m. MDT Monday. In the map of the West Mullan Fire below, the red squares represent heat detected by the satellite; each square could be as much as a mile in error.

3-D map of West Mullan Fire
3-D map of West Mullan Fire, 2:26 p.m. MDT, July 15, 2013 (click to enlarge)

Boyd Hartwig of the Lolo National Forest told us the fire showed active fire behavior Monday afternoon and was burning in very dry fuels including grass with stringers of timber. Approximately 30 homes have been evacuated in the Flat Creek and Pardee Creek areas near Superior. Tom Heintz’s Type 2 Incident Management Team was en route. The fire is north of Interstate 90 which is open; the fire is not burning on the south side of the highway..

Monday afternoon the resources on scene included two hand crews, and 12 engines. Three helicopters and two Hotshot crews are on order.

Monday afternoon the nearby Pardee weather station recorded temperatures in the mid-80s, a relative humidity in the mid-teens, and variable wind at 5 to 10 mph gusting to 15. The forecast for the higher elevations of the fire Tuesday call for about 80 degrees, a relative humidity of 30 percent, and east winds of 10 to 14 mph gusting up to 22 mph. The chance of thunderstorms Tuesday afternoon and evening is 20 to 55 percent.

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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.

8 thoughts on “Montana: West Mullan Fire”

  1. We live on Mullan Road West and are next to the road and we are in no immediate danger, but we cann’t go to town and to the meetings or they won’t let us back home even to feed our chickens, cats and dog, so we are staying. The fire fighters have said that they think we are pretty safe where we are.The Fire Fighters are doing a wonderful job working on the fire and two Helicopters were flying over our house all day yesterday putting out hot spots on the mountain behind us. Also The slurry planes were dropping during the day. Great Job to all the personnel.

  2. im on the superior fire department and it seems every few hours but as far as i am aware the fire would not hit where you are but always be prepaired to get up and go so have your cars turned around and ready to get out of there. i live in twn and i watch the fire through out the night so i can see if a tree falls and comes down the hill but i cants see to the keystone gulch

  3. We live up Keystone Gulch Rd.,6 miles west out of Superior,Mt. Today the smoke is very bad. Just wondering how far the fire is away from us? Yesterday it seemed to have burned away from us. Your help would be appreciated.

    1. Pat, on a map I found a “Keystone Road” north of I-90 and northwest of Superior. The information I have from the satellite orbiting 200 miles above the earth is not accurate enough to give you exact information, but the fire last night during the overflight was close to Keystone Road. I would call the fire’s Information Officer to get more information: Pat Mckelvey, at 406 459 8225.

  4. Thank you for the 3-D map you posted. My husband and I live in Arizona and own RailHead Sporting in Superior, MT. By being able to view the 3-D it gave us a very good perspective of how this fire is burning and how close it is to our business.


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