Investigators determine wildfire near Helena was started by exploding target

A suspect has been cited and may have to pay suppression costs

North Hills Fire Helena exploding target
Investigators determined that the North Hills Fire was started by an exploding target on July 26, 2019.

Investigators have determined that the North Hills Fire that burned 5,005 acres 10 miles northeast of Helena, Montana was started by a Tannerite exploding target July 26, 2019.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Independent Record:

Two citations were filed Thursday against the person suspected of starting the North Hills fire that burned more than 5,000 acres near Helena earlier this summer.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management law enforcement cited the suspect with one count of causing a fire other than a campfire and one count of burning timber, trees, slash and brush outside of a campfire. Each ticket carries a $500 fine plus a $30 processing fee for a total cost of $1,060.

The citations do not include the costs associated with suppressing the wildfire or rehabilitating the burned area. Any possible civil action will be handled administratively by the agencies involved.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has estimated the suppression costs “somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.2 million,” according to Helena Unit Manager John Huston.

“We probably will go after some suppression costs,” he said, noting that the process would probably take about a year.

Local and federal officials have declined to release the suspect’s name.

The North Hills Fire forced the evacuation of 400 homes northeast of Helena.

Walt Jester, Chief of the Lewis and Clark Volunteer Fire Department, took some excellent photos of the fire:

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user explode when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years, have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. After the ingredients are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paula. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

National Park Service releases video about the Howe Ridge Fire

The fire burned 14,000 acres and more than a dozen structures in Glacier National Park in August, 2018

Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park
Howe Ridge Fire, August 12, 2018. NPS photo.

The National Park Service has released a video discussing the first 36 hours of the Howe Ridge Fire that burned over 14,000 acres in Glacier National Park in Northern Montana in August, 2018. The fire destroyed approximately 13 private homes and publicly-owned historic structures.

Below is text released by the NPS along with the video on August 1, 2019. The photos are NPS photos of the fire on flickr but no photographer credits or dates were provided.

Lakewood, CO – Today, the National Park Service (NPS) released a video documenting the first 36 hours of the Howe Ridge Fire, which took place at Glacier National Park. The fire destroyed private homes and publicly-owned historic structures on August 12, 2018.

The video documents steps firefighters took to attack the wildland fire initially, and the combination of factors that made initial attack unsuccessful. The video also documents evacuation and structural firefighting efforts.

The goal of the video is to share these efforts and raise awareness about this incident to other public land management agencies, people who visit and recreate on public lands, and residents who live in wildland fire prone areas.

Summary of Events
August 11, 2018, was a Red Flag day when a weather system moved through the region bringing little moisture and widespread lightning, 19 fires ignited across the Northern Rockies Fire Zone. Three of these fires ignited in Glacier National Park, requiring interagency fire managers to prioritize by considering values at risk. The Howe Ridge Fire was detected at 7:18 pm – all three park fires were deemed high priority fires. Firefighters caught the other two fires on initial attack due to a combination of factors, including access and weather conditions.

In the last 10 years, there were three other reported fires on Howe Ridge. Because the area is relatively close to developed infrastructure, all three fires were managed with full suppression tactics. One was suppressed at .1 acres, another at 2.3 acres, and the third was never found after the initial report. We presume that fire went out without firefighter intervention. In all cases, these previous fires were relatively straightforward to control.

Howe Ridge Fire Glacier National Park 2018
Two CL-415 scooping air tankers work the Howe Ridge Fire, Glacier National Park, August, 2018. NPS photo.

Continue reading “National Park Service releases video about the Howe Ridge Fire”

Hundreds of homes evacuated due to wildfire north of Helena

The North Hills Fire has burned 4,225 acres 10 miles north of downtown Helena, Montana

map North Hills Fire Helena MT
Map showing the location of the North Hills Fire north of Helena, Montana. The red line was the perimeter at 9:37 p.m. MDT July 28. The red-shaded areas were areas of intense heat. The red dots on the south side represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:30 a.m. MDT July 29, 2019. Click to enlarge.

(UPDATED at 11:41 a.m. MDT July 29, 2019)

The North Hills Fire has forced the evacuation of 400 homes 10 miles north of downtown Helena, Montana. The fire was very active Sunday night, challenging firefighters who went house to house protecting private property.

An overnight mapping flight at 9:37 p.m. Sunday determined that at that time the fire had burned 4,225 acres. (see map above)

Sunday afternoon the firefighting resources assigned to the fire included 6 hand crews, 22 fire engines, and 6 helicopters for a total of 238 personnel.

Walt Jester, Chief of the Lewis and Clark Volunteer Fire Department, took some excellent photos of the fire:

North Hills Fire retardant drop
Retardant settles to the ground after being dropped by an RJ85 air tanker. Screengrab from Walter Jester’s video.

Mike Almas’ Northern Rockies Incident Management Team assumed command of the North Hills Fire at 6 a.m., Monday, July 29.

On Sunday, Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency via executive order temporarily suspending “hours of service” regulations to meet increased demand for drivers’ hours spent transporting fuel and fire suppression resources.

We will update this article as more information becomes available.

Montana becomes 49th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters

Montana Governor to sign legislation today

With the passage of Senate Bill 160 Montana becomes the 48th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters.

The Firefighters Protection Act lists 12 presumptive diseases for which it would be easier for a firefighter to file a workers’ compensation claim if they served a certain number of years:

  • Bladder cancer, 12 years
  • Brain cancer, 10 years
  • Breast cancer, 5 years
  • Myocardial infarction, 10 years
  • colorectal cancer, 10 years
  • Esophageal cancer, 10 years
  • Kidney cancer, 15 years
  • Leukemia, 5 years
  • Mesothelioma or asbestosis, 10 years
  • Multiple myeloma, 15 years
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, 15 years
  • Lung cancer, 4 years

The bill applies to volunteers and local fire departments in Montana, but not to federal firefighters. It is unclear if it affects those employed by the state government.

The federal government has not established a presumptive disease program for their 15,000 wildland firefighters.

At a bill signing ceremony Thursday afternoon Governor Bullock will issue a proclamation ordering flags to be displayed at half-staff in honor of all Montana firefighters who have lost their lives from a job-related illness in the line of duty.

Governor Proclamation Montana firefighters


In a related story from April 12, “British Columbia may expand firefighter occupational disease coverage to wildland firefighters”

Part of Lame Deer, Montana evacuated as wildfire burns into the town

The west side of Lame Deer, Montana was evacuated Sunday as a wildfire burned into the town. Residents said it originated from a structure fire that spread into nearby vegetation, and pushed by strong winds it spread quickly.  Rosebud County Sheriff Allen Fulton estimated the fire grew to approximately 1,700 acres before firefighters contained it. There were no reports of any additional structures burning.

The fire jumped across Highway 212 but firefighters were able to stop it at Highway 39, the main road that runs north and south through the town.

Sunday afternoon a weather station on Badger Peak east of Lame Deer recorded a high of 63 degrees, 23 percent relative humidity, and winds out of the west and southwest at 10 to 22 mph with gusts up to 42 mph.

Several residents posted videos and photos on social media.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Al. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

29 have graduated recently from the Trapper Creek Job Corps firefighter program

The Ravalli Republic has an uplifting story about the recent graduates of the firefighter training program at the Trapper Creek Job Corps center south of Darby, Montana. The nine individuals that were recognized on December 10 are in addition to the 20 that previously graduated and left the facility. The graduates were given coats as a symbol of their achievements.

Below is an excerpt from the article:


…This past summer they learned that struggle can lead to something good. They learned that what they thought were their limits weren’t really where it stops at all. They discovered that they had much more buried deep inside of themselves than they ever imagined.

“You learned to embrace the suck,” said Trapper Creek’s Fire Training Specialist Danny Atkinson. “You found that struggle can become the goal. When it sucks the most, life is good. You discovered that you are a lot damn tougher than you ever thought you were.”

As a team that started with 44 members, they put in 71,774 hours on 277 assignments that took them to 11 states as far away as Wisconsin. Along the way, they and others at Trapper Creek Job Corps earned $1.2 million in gross pay. There is only one other Job Corps Center that’s broken the $1 million mark before. Trapper Creek has done that two years in a row.

“Some of our students have between $5,000 and $20,000 in their bank accounts,” said Justin Abbey, Trapper Creek’s Fire Management Officer. “That’s the money that they’ll be able to tap into to relocate, buy a car and pay for that first and last month’s rent. It helps set them up for success…”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paula.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.