Many other fires flare across NW Montana

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The Thompson Fire in Glacier Park notwithstanding, Tuesday was a fiery day throughout Northwest Montana.

An early morning fire led Flathead National Forest officials to temporarily close Jewel Basin Road, which reopened Tuesday afternoon after crews put out the small, lightning-caused fire near Noisy Creek.

Spotted early in the morning north of the lower segment of the gravel road, the fire was stopped at a quarter of an acre after firefighters from the forest and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation crews hit it with a light helicopter and finished containment lines by Tuesday afternoon. There were no trail closures associated with the fire.

The Camp Misery parking lot was empty early Tuesday morning when officials closed the 7-mile-long road. The parking lot is the main gateway to the popular Jewel Basin Hiking Area in the Swan Range.

Farther west, fire managers in the Kootenai National Forest and surrounding area had their hands full with 16 new fires Tuesday.

Fire Management Officer Dan Rose said each of the starts was lightning-caused. Initial attack crews were quick to jump on them and only the Dunn Fire exceeded five acres by late Tuesday afternoon.

The Dunn Fire was burning through between 20 and 30 acres of forested land southeast of the Libby Dam on Tuesday.

“That one is actually pretty accessible, in a more open kind of pine,” Rose said. “We’re still getting additional people out, and everyone seemed pretty confident that they’ll be able to hold onto it.”

Still, he noted that fire-friendly weather would continue throughout much of the week, as dry winds combine with temperatures forecast to reach the triple digits today and Thursday in Libby.

Jeremy Pris, a fire manager for the Montana Department of Natural Resources in Kalispell, said the agency responded to three fires in Flathead County on Tuesday. Five other, mainly small fires were reported throughout the day.

The largest was near Dayton Creek on the southeast flank of Blacktail Mountain. Pris said it had reached about five acres and was about 75 percent contained. Three helicopters, a bulldozer and several engines from multiple agencies responded, and he expected it would be fully contained by this morning.

In Idaho, lightning was responsible for more than 100 fires burning through the Clearwater and Nez Perce national forests in the Kooskia area, according to Flathead Forest spokeswoman Emma Braunberger.

As forest vegetation continues to dry out, Pris noted that increased fire danger warnings or restrictions could come into effect unless there is a reversal in recent weather patterns.

Currently, Flathead, Lake, Lincoln and Sanders counties are under Stage I fire restrictions, which prohibit most open fires and smoking in areas not cleared of vegetation. Flathead County, including state and federal forest land, private land and Glacier Park, are also under a “very high” fire danger level.

“Based on this activity, we’re right on the cusp [of “extreme” fire danger], so I think we’re all waiting to see whether there’s going to be another round of lightning coming in tonight, and base it on the activity that occurs,” he said.


Reporter Samuel Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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