Cool, rainy conditions in the Fortine area were favorable enough on the Marston Fire that the fire management team and Flathead and Kootenai national forests have lifted most of the land closures in the Whitefish Range.
That team is managing several fires, including the one burning on and around Marston Mountain that has covered 7,000 acres.
Spokesman Tom Rhodes said the Flathead National Forest has rescinded all of its closures in the Glacier View Ranger District and most of the Kootenai-managed Ten Lakes area has reopened with the exception of Sinclair Creek Trail.
While that area had only received slight showers late Wednesday night, Rhodes said between a quarter inch and an inch were forecast tonight through Saturday night.
Some minimal fire activity was present on the south and north sides of the Marston Fire perimeter, but the three helicopters assigned to the simmering blaze continued water drops throughout the day Thursday.
At the Thompson-Divide Complex along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park, the crisis that threatened the community of Essex appears to have been averted.
The Type II fire team that for almost three weeks has managed the Thompson, Sheep and Granite fires has begun demobilizing personnel and equipment and will continue to do so as fire management is transferred to Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest next week. About a third of the personnel on the fire complex have now gone elsewhere.
Spokesman Gregg Dinetto said the fires had received about a quarter-inch of rain by Thursday morning and precipitation had continued during the day. A rain gauge east of the fire near Devil Creek Campground had registered a third of an inch of rain by late Thursday afternoon.
“I would say it’s going to be minimal [fire] activity if we continue to get the rain that’s predicted, with the temperatures low and the overcast skies,” he said. “There will be a few hotspots, logs and stump holes, that should be the most activity. There’s just a few puffs of smoke coming off within the existing perimeter.”
Within the past two weeks, fires burning on the Flathead National Forest’s Spotted Bear Ranger District have burned through close to 100,000 acres, but the recent influx of cool, wet weather has firefighters moving from suppression to safety work in the area.
“With the moisture, it’s allowing us to get closer to the fires, and we’re working to get the area safe for the public,” said Al Koss, a spokesman for the district. “It’s not just the physical slowing-down of the fire, there’s also the aspect of what trees have burned, snags and hazard trees that need to be cut so that people can go through the area safely.”
By Thursday morning, he said more than a third of an inch of precipitation had fallen with rain steadily continuing. That, paired with high temperatures in the 60s, has slowed the fires’ progress to a crawl, and more rain is in the forecast.
Farther west in Montana, as of late Thursday afternoon pre-evacuation notices were still in effect for the Bull River area affected by the Clark Fork Complex Fires after they were downgraded from evacuations Tuesday.
However, spokeswoman Glenda Scott said conversations to lift the pre-evacuations between the fire management team and the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office were ongoing as were talks with the Kootenai National Forest to lift area closures.
“I know hunting season is starting soon and we’ve had a lot of rain, but there’s still smoke and a lot of hazards, snags burning [and] stump holes,” Scott said.
Last weekend the fires received between a third and three quarters of an inch of rain, with an additional quarter- to half-inch expected this weekend.
“It definitely put a damper on the fire,” Scott said. “We’re still expecting some dry days and some windy days, so we’ll see smokes picking back up on the interior, but we feel pretty good that on the critical edges. We’re mopping those up, so there won’t be any spread coming across the Bull River area.”
Reporter Samuel Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org