Elmo Fire spreads toward Lake Mary Ronan in Montana

We discovered it is difficult to find evacuation information

Updated 4:33 p.m. MDT August 4, 2022

Elmo Fire map, north end, 3-08 p.m. Aug. 4, 2022
Elmo Fire map, north end. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:08 p.m. Aug. 4, 2022. The fire continues to spread closer to Lake Mary Ronan.

A satellite overflight at 3:08 p.m. MDT Thursday detected heat from the Elmo Fire very close to the south end of Lake Mary Ronan.

There are many structures on the east side of the lake. The Incident Management Team said Thursday morning they hoped to keep the fire from spreading beyond Camp Tuffit Road.

Updated 3:23 p.m. MDT August 4, 2022

Elmo Fire 3-D map 4:39 a.m. Aug. 4, 2022
Elmo Fire 3-D map 4:39 a.m. Aug. 4, 2022.

The Elmo Fire which started July 29 continues to spread north toward Lake Mary Ronan. The south edge is secure along Highway 28, but firefighters are having a difficult time stopping the northward progression through the timber as it approaches the lake.

The fire was mapped Wednesday night at 20,616 acres. The east side of the fire is very close to Flathead Lake and it appears likely that the north side will reach Lake Mary Ronan.

Elmo Fire map 5:02 a.m. Aug. 4, 2022
Elmo Fire map. The red dots represent heat detected by satellites at 5:02 a.m. Aug. 4, 2022. The white line was the perimeter at 12:53 a.m. August 1, 2022.

On Wednesday winds increased out of the southwest in the afternoon resulting in upslope runs, spotting, and significant growth on the north side, limiting firefighters’ ability to engage directly on the fire’s edge.  All areas of the fire were supported by numerous aircraft dropping water and retardant.

On Thursday firefighters are focusing on Camp Tuffit Road and are working to hold the fire as it approaches the southeast shore of Lake Mary Ronan. Firefighters are prepping structures and constructing secondary firelines.

The Flathead Beacon reported that four homes have been destroyed, quoting an information officer at the fire.

It is not easy to find up to date evacuation information for this incident. At InciWeb the last time it was mentioned was on August 2, 2022 (no time was included). It listed a change, then said “all prior evacuations are in effect.” But there was no link to “prior evacuations”.  The change at that time was to include “all residents residing north and south of Hwy 352 (Lake Mary Ronan Road) and all residents who live along Lake Mary Ronan. ”

Another announcement on InciWeb said, “At approximately 2 PM, Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 7 recommended the evacuation of the Lake Mary Ronan corridor to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.”

No date or time was included in the announcement, other than “three days ago.”

Our take
Ordering the public to evacuate and leave their homes is an earth-shattering event for most residents. It can mean the difference between life and death. Then there are the practical logistics of hauling off your critical medicines, documents, family photos, electronics, and pets, then finding a place to shelter which may involve a large expenditure of money.

For the Incident Management Team to treat the evacuation so casually, is not acceptable.

Firefighters do not order an evacuation. They may recommend it, but it can only be ordered and implemented by law enforcement. If the Incident Management Team does not have the current information, they should at least provide a link so someone can easily find this critical data. Assuming that the general public visiting InciWeb will happily mentally cut and paste little bits of evacuation information from multiple web pages to form a complete picture of whether they have to evacuate or not, is poor incident management.

I conducted a search in an attempt to find the information that may have been posted by a law enforcement or emergency management agency, with no success.

When I discovered this issue, I asked the Incident Management Team if they knew of one place where a citizen could get the information, and was told that it was on their InciWeb page under “Announcements.” The email reply was not signed by a person, just “Public Information, Northern Rockies Team 7.” Apparently no one there wants to be held accountable.

“If the announcement is a couple days old, then no changes have occurred to evacuations,” the reply said. “We will continue to post Evacuation updates here as soon as we hear from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.”

An Incident Management Team should either:

  1. Provide accurate, complete, easy to understand, current evacuation information. OR:
  2. Provide a link to a website that has the information.

If an Incident Management Team finds that their recommendation for evacuation has not been implemented, or has not been communicated to the public in a useful way, the Incident Commander should follow up. Maybe the local jurisdiction rarely has to implement evacuations and does not have a check list of all the steps that must be taken. It can be turned into a teachable moment. But the follow up must occur.

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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.

18 thoughts on “Elmo Fire spreads toward Lake Mary Ronan in Montana”

  1. It’s a Fed Fire so it really doesn’t matter if your BLM FS BIA NPS all work for the Federal Government just different uniforms.

  2. From Missoulian Newspaper (Missoula, MT)

    The Lake County Sheriff’s Office reiterated that anyone in an evacuation zone should leave immediately because the fire could burn over Lake Mary Ronan Road and trap residents who elected to remain along the road or around the lake. Lake County Sheriff Don Bell told the Missoulian in a text message that approximately 150 homes were under an evacuation order midday Wednesday.

    Bell expanded evacuation orders on the fire’s northeast front around 4 p.m. Tuesday as gusty winds from the west pushed the fire toward Lake Mary Ronan Road and Lake Mary Ronan, northwest of Dayton. An existing evacuation order for homes south of the road remains in place. The entire Lake Mary Ronan Road corridor from U.S. Highway 93 to the lake, and area around the lake, are now under a full evacuation order.

  3. Glad somebody has the cajones to throw shade at the antiquated R1 politics and leadership.

            1. @ Jay – Do you know what Region MT is for FWS or NPS? Certainly not R1 😉

              Thanks Dick Mangan for helping settle this.

              1. Fire is within the NRGA commonly referred to as R1. I understand DOI has their own administrative regions, that nobody knows, obviously including you. Nobody said USFS has responsibility for this fire. Nothing to settle here.

            2. Hey Jay, ever heard of ICS Nemonics? First 2 letters are State (like MT) not USFS region, then comes unit (like BUD for Butte BLM), then comes unit like E-50 for Engine 50. USFS fire units in Montana are MT- BRF. (for Bitterroot NF).
              And how come the ICC Daily Sit Report shows “Northern Rockies” as well as for IMT’s?

              1. Oh you’re cute. Congrats on your second season on a contract engine. I’m obviously not talking to peers here, so I’m out. If you don’t think MT is commonly referred to as R1 and CA as R5, you are not a fire professional so not worth my time to explain how the regions are numbered.

    1. Last time I looked, this fire was 100% State and tribal lands. NO National Forest lands, hence no R-1 USFS responsibility. If you’re going to throw rocks, at least be sure it’s at the right target.

  4. The evac orders have been all over the place. They seem to be taking into consideration the feelings of residents who won’t leave over general safety and protecting lives. They started by sending notices for evacuations for one side of the road, but not the other, knowing full well the fire isn’t contained and that those residents are in its path. I have a place up there and a lot of people left last Friday night hours after it first erupted. My family and I were among those voluntary evacs. A fire fighter lives by us and insisted up until yesterday that it would be fine. It’s been a bunch of rather irrational and destructive optimism, combined with some hearty belligerence. Law enforcement in the county is, quite frankly, all but useless right now and have handed all that over to the fire fighters, who, like you mentioned, do not have the authority to force evacs. The good ol boy deputy network, however, does, and won’t use it. This whole thing has been bungled since day 1 if you ask me. The state hasn’t done anything to help with the evacuees either. I’m not surprised with our current state government administration. Maybe Gianforte is back in Europe living it up while the state burns. ?

    1. Hi Bob. We left Fri night, Gene came at about midnight, Again Sat-Sun. Home Mon. Out Tuesday at 4. I would have to say Lyle Wilkinson spent a lot of time traveling the neighborhood and advising people. When the fire vehicles showed up we talked to them as we were leaving. The sheriff’s dept was maddening.
      I did not realize as I watched my neighbors putting things in the car that they seemed to be in shock and were actually behaving like it wasn’t really happening. One came over to “help” me, which I refused thinking they should be going. Stated “I guess we’re in denial”. Very casual. they did get out and are in Polson.
      Jeff also called us to be sure we knew.
      But I generally agree with what you’re saying. Lake County government was basically absent. We’re fortunate nobody was hurt and damage so far is minimal. Somehow I was feeling this fire was going to happen. I told two neighbors months ago
      this was the year we would “lose” the Lake. They seemed mystified as to what I was talking about.
      Don’t know about the guv, but I suspect he didn’t realize how incompetent our local government is.


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