Rice Ridge Fire grows to over 101,000 acres

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The Sheep Gap Fire Saturday night from mile marker 66 on Montana 200. (Erin Jusseaume/Clark Fork Valley Press)

The Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake has doubled in size again, and now tops 101,000 acres. It is reportedly the top priority fire in the nation.

The Rice Ridge Fire, caused by lightning, started July 24. The fire is located northeast of Seeley Lake, on the Lolo National Forest. The community of Seeley Lake and surrounding areas are threatened by this fire, and multiple evacuation orders and warnings are in effect for Missoula and Powell counties.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team is set to take over operations at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The Highway 200 Fire Complex includes the Readers Fire, Miller Fire, Moose Peak Fire and the Cub Fire on the Cabinet Ranger District on the Kootenai Forest and the Deep Creek and Sheep Gap Fires on the Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger District on the Lolo National Forest. A closure order is in place in the immediate vicinity of all fires.

The windy weather Sunday caused increased fire behavior throughout the Highway 200 Complex. Group torching, crown fires, active runs and spot fires were observed throughout the day, according to an InciWeb report. However, fire operations on structure protection were successful.

The Sheep Gap Fire, at 7,273 acres, is threatening approximately 70 residences, which have been notified of mandatory evacuations by the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office.

The Reader and Reader 2 fires, 146 acres, are being managed conjointly due to their close proximity. Firefighters are working to establish fire line around these two fires and hold the fire line already developed. Pre-evacuation warnings have been issued to some residents in the areas of White Pine, Beaver Creek, and Little Beaver.

Cub Creek Fire has grown to 2,247 acres, with “significant growth to the east and south” reported Sunday. The fire moved up Emma Creek and is established in the upper part of the Little Beaver drainage. The fire is expected to continue growing to the east and south.

Deep Creek Fire is at 3,301 acres, with firefighting efforts continuing to focus on keeping the fire from crossing to the west side of Deep Creek. Fire growth occurred on the north, east, and south sides of the fire Sunday. The fire did surround the Cougar Peak Lookout but structure suppression actions have been implemented. Fire activity is expected to continue up around Graves Peak and in the upper part of Graves Creek.

Moose Peak Fire is listed at 4,179 acres, having made a significant run to the east yesterday and prompted the Lincoln County Sheriff to issue an Evacuation Order for the McGinnis Meadows and Bayhorse areas. The fire is currently unstaffed due to limited resources and difficult access, however, firefighters are assessing the areas north of the fire to develop future protection and suppression objectives if needed.

East of Plains, mandatory evacuations are in place from the end of River Road West to Arnold Road, at the corner of Section 11. All residents in the Plains and Trout Creek areas should note that conditions will likely change quickly over the next few days.

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