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.

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.