Western Montana Forest Fire Tensions Ease Just A Little
The weekend lightning storm that passed through the Bitterroot Valley Saturday evening recorded over 200 strikes. But only two single-tree fires were reported from the rumbling storm, one up Skalkaho, southeast of Hamilton and the other south of Conner on the Bitterroot National Forest. Fire Management Officer Mark Wilson said the two blazes were quickly put out, though he expects a few more "hold over" fires to be spotted and extinguished this week.
There was some rain from the storms, but not as much as in other parts of Montana. However, Wilson said the fire danger on the Bitterroot will be going from "Very High" down to "High." What has not changed are the Stage 2 Fire Restrictions on the National Forests and throughout Ravalli County and Missoula County. No campfires! The Open Burning Ban in Ravalli County is also still in force. In fact, it will probably not be lifted until sometime later in September, according to Ravalli Coounty Emergency Coordinator Eric Hoover. He told Ravalli County Commissioners Monday that the earliest they've lifted the summertime ban was after the first week in September.
The major smoke producers for the Bitterroot Valley include the 14,958-acre Storm Creek Fire, in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness a couple of miles from the Montana-Idaho border, west of Victor. It's part of the Storm Theatre Complex of 26 backcountry fires in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. The Storm Creek Fire had no appreciable growth over the weekend. In fact, most fires in that Idaho complex had some interior burning and smoke, but no fire spread.
Southeast on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, more smoke is expected from the 39,000 acre Trail Creek Fire. Crews are removing fire debris from Highway 43. However, a bridge project by the Montana Department of Transportation is expected to close Highway 43 in the Big Hole all this week from Wisdom to Mile Marker 7.5.
No active fire on the Alder Creek Fire and only minimal fire on the Christensen Fire, both near Wise River. The Divide Bridge Campground has re-opened. The Bureau of Land Management facility had been used as a firefighting base camp. The Alder Fire is estimated at 14,066 acres and the Christensen Fire is at 11,089 acres. The Big Hole National Battlefield is still closed, as is the May Creek Campground.