Lodgepole Fire in Montana burns over 220,000 acres

Lodgepole Complex of fires satellite photo

Above: Satellite photo of the Lodgepole Complex of fires, July 23, 2017. The red dots represent heat detected by the satellite.

(Updated at 11:50 p.m. MDT July 24, 2017)

The Lodgepole Complex of fires in eastern Montana was active Monday on the north and east sides. The incident management team (IMT) reported Monday at 6 p.m. MDT that the estimated size is a quarter of a million acres — 250,000 acres.

There are 611 personnel assigned to the fire.

The IMT also reported that 16 homes have been destroyed as well as a significant amount of fencing and hay.

The executive order signed by the Governor of Montana Sunday will enable the state to mobilize National Guard helicopters (Blackhawks and CH47), some firefighters, and kitchens. It also makes it possible for local governments to access the Governor’s emergency fund if they have enacted their own 2 mil levy.

Monday night there is a chance of dry thunderstorms — lightning with little to no rain but with plenty of wind. Tuesday should be cooler with northeast winds at 10 mph.

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(Originally published at 10:23 a.m. MDT July 24, 2017)
(Updated at 1:20 p.m. MDT July 24, 2017)

A wildfire in eastern Montana grew to over 220,000 acres Sunday in a remote area miles from communities people from out of the state have ever heard of. The group of four fires are referred to as the Lodgepole Complex of fires and cover an area 40 miles by 20 miles. The incident management team Monday morning is calling the four fires 226,000 acres, a classification that we call “megafires” (that exceed 100,000 acres). The nearest community in the area that we could find on a map was Mosby on Highway 200, about three miles west of the fire. Mosby’s post office closed in 2015. The County Seat, Jordon, with a population of 343 in 2010, is about 30 air miles to the east.

(All articles on Wildfire Today about the Lodgepole Fire in Montana are tagged, and can be found at https://wildfiretoday.com/tag/lodgepole-complex/, with the most recent articles at the top.)

Lodgepole Complex fires
Lodgepole Fire. Posted on Inciweb July 23, 2017. Undated and uncredited.

The map of the Lodgepole Complex below shows the perimeter as mapped by an aircraft at 9 p.m. MDT July 23. Later that night the fire continued to spread north along the shore of Lake Fort Peck up to the main body of the lake where it makes a 180-degree turn. Our very unofficial estimate puts the size at close to a quarter of a million acres.

The north end of the fire has burned into the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge near Lake Fort Peck.

map Lodgepole Complex fires
Map of the Lodgepole Complex fires at 9 p.m. MDT July 23, 2017. Click to enlarge.

On Sunday evening Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed an Executive Order “declaring a fire emergency to exist in the state”. The Governor said the order will provide additional firefighting resources.

On Sunday firefighters were able to stop the spread on the south end of the fire and continued to patrol the area which had little fire activity south of Highway 200. Other efforts on Sunday were on the northern portions of the fires protecting property and grazing areas after a wind shift from the south. Both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters have been heavily used on the fires.

Evacuation orders are in effect for portions of Garfield and Petroleum Counties.

The four fires began on July 19, 2017 after a lightning storm.

The National Situation Report said resources on the fire Sunday evening included 4 hand crews, 12 engines, and 3 helicopters for a total of 215 personnel. Monday morning the incident management team reported the number of personnel had increased to 300. These would be very low numbers for a fire much smaller than the Lodgepole Complex of fires.

The weather forecast for Mosby, MT on Monday features another Red Flag Warning with temperatures in the mid 80s to mid 90s and humidity levels around 20 percent with 10 to 20 mph north winds gusting at 22 to 28.

This wind out of the north may again, as in recent days, push smoke into neighboring states.

map wildfire smoke forecast
Forecast for the distribution of wildfire smoke at 5 p.m. MDT July 24, 2017. NOAA.

The fire is being managed by the Western Montana Type 2 Interagency Incident Management Team, Rick Connell Incident Commander.

Lodgepole Complex fires montana DC-10
A DC-10 drops on the Lodgepole Fire. Posted on Inciweb July 23, 2017. Undated and uncredited.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Lodgepole Fire in Montana burns over 220,000 acres”

  1. 20 some odd years a go, I & Mr. Billy Bump Mosby, family & friends used to go spring cat fishing & fall deer hunting up to Uncle Fred’s cabin. Some of my most fondest memories! I pray that Fred’s cabin & all the family in the area are all right! I’m just sick to my stomach over this , its like getting kicked right in the test’s. My hart & prays go out to all of you in the area!

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  2. Spent 10 season on Lewistown and Zortman Helitack. Fuel in the area is timbered draws and grassy ridges. Wind whips grass fires up/down the ridges and fire backs into coulees. Initial attack is usually dictated by prescription, although I believe prescription went by the wayside with the July Fire just to the north in Zortman. Cut the fences and let the horses and cattle escape. Reinforce roads with retardant and burn out.

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  3. The area is referred to as the “Big Dry” or the “Big Dry Country”. There were huge horse outfits than raised canner horses and drove them to the railhead at Miles City. One of the most isolated areas in the lower 48. The BLM had a helitak crew station at Jordan at one time but it has been relocated to Miles City.

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