Fires of unprecedented size and intensity are raging across the western U.S., forming what looks like a ring of fire in the Rocky Mountains stretching from Mexico to Canada on the current map displayed on the federal wildfire website (inciweb.nwcg.gov). According to figures reported on Monday, July 26, by the National Interagency Fire Center, a total of 86 large fires currently burning have torched about 1.5 million acres in 12 states.
The Bitterroot National Forest has been mostly spared from any large wildfires so far this season. But fires are burning all around the valley on other forests and flooding the valley with smoke. Over the last week air quality conditions have worsened with the area around Victor and Corvallis registering some of the worst conditions.
On Monday, July 26, the smoke levels in Victor had risen from Unhealthy to Very Unhealthy but were showing signs of decline. Conditions in Corvallis remain Unhealthy. Both Stevensville and Hamilton remain Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.
There have been 31 wildfires on the Bitterroot National Forest to date. Fire officials note 13 were human-caused and 18 of the fires were sparked by lightning.
Most recently, smoke from an abandoned campfire was reported up Bass Creek on July 23. Firefighters found the fire still burning inside a campfire ring and being attended by people unaware of the campfire restrictions in place on the forest. The fire was extinguished. On July 24, a report of an abandoned campfire at Lost Horse Bridge was determined to be a false alarm.
Newly confirmed fires on the forest include:
• Three Frogs Fire: 1/10 acre, lightning-caused fire. Fire is currently contained and controlled. Initial attack resources included 3 firefighters and a helicopter for water drops. Firefighters are continuing mop-up on Thursday.
• El Capitan Fire: 1/10 acre, caused by lightning. Initial attack resources included 2 firefighters and a helicopter for water drops. Fire is currently contained and in mop-up status.
• Little Boulder Fire: 1/2 acre, lightning-caused. Initial attack resources included 8 firefighters and helicopters for water drops. Firefighters will complete line construction and begin mop-up on Thursday.
• Took Fire: 1/10 acre, caused by lightning. Fire is currently contained and controlled.
• McCart Fire: 1/4 acre, lightning-caused. Initial attack resources included 4 firefighters and a helicopter for water drops. The fire is currently contained and firefighters will continue mop-up on Thursday.
• Two Bear Meadows Fire (BRF-21168): 1/4 acre, lightning-caused fire. Initial attack resources included 2 firefighters and helicopters for water drops. Firefighters will complete line construction and begin mop-up on Thursday.
Fires burning around the valley that are not on the Bitterroot National Forest but may be pouring smoke into the valley include the Granite Pass Complex, the Storm Creek Fire, the Trail Creek Fire and the Dixie Fire.
The Granite Pass Complex consists of four wildfires, burning in the vicinity of Lolo Pass on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in Idaho and the Lolo National Forest in Montana. They are being managed together under Type 2 Incident Command. Managing the fires under one incident commander improves efficiency and simplifies incident management processes, according to forest officials. On Sunday, a firefighter working on the Granite Pass Complex was reported missing but on Monday he was found safe and uninjured.
One of the fires in the complex is the Lolo Creek Fire burning between mile marker 1 and 2 along the Highway 12 corridor, approximately 1 mile west of Highway 12, and 1.5 miles northwest of the Lolo Pass Visitor Center on the Lolo National Forest.
The Shotgun Fire on the Powell Ranger District is located seven miles north of Powell Junction on Highway 12. It is on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.
The Boulder Creek Fire is 8 miles west of Lolo Pass Visitor Center. It is on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.
The BM Hill Fire is located 10 miles north of Powell Junction, and is burning on both the Nez Perce-Clearwater and Lolo National Forests. It continues to burn actively in heavy brush and timber. There are existing road and trail closures on both forests for public safety due to the BM Hill fire.
The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office issued an Evacuation Warning from Martin Creek (Mile Marker 10) on US HWY 12 to the Idaho Border (Mile Marker 0). Wildfires burning in the Highway 12 area are moving down the highway corridor with potential to impact private property, homes and roads. Deputies will be notifying residents and visitors along Highway 12 of the Warning. Residents and visitors in the area should stay vigilant of the current situation and be ready to immediately leave the area if an evacuation order is issued. Travelers along Highway 12 are warned not stop. For more information, visit Missoula County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook.
The lightning-caused Storm Theatre Complex located 12 miles south of Lolo Pass in the Storm Creek drainage, has reached 6,138 acres in size and was zero percent contained as of July 26.
The lightning -caused Trail Creek Fire burning 20 miles west of Wisdom since July 8 has burned over 27,797 acres. The fire is not estimated to be contained until November.
The lightning-caused Dixie-Jumbo Fires burning on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in Idaho have scorched over 40,000 acres. The fires are located approximately 40 miles southeast of Grangeville and 15 miles south of Elk City, Idaho, near the communities of Comstock and Dixie.
The Dixie Fire has burned over 38,571 acres since starting on July 5 and is 18% contained. The Jumbo Fire is located in Wilderness and is 2,044 acres and zero percent contained. The fires are being co-managed at this point by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest’s Type 3 Team.
Valley residents are advised to check for road closures before traveling and to follow air quality related health advisements.