The Garden Creek Fire burning on tribal land near Hot Springs took a drastic turn Tuesday night, growing from 500 acres to nearly 1,800 acres, making it the largest fire in the state so far this season.
Fueled by high western winds and temperatures lingering around 80 through Tuesday night, the rapid spread prompted the evacuation of one outlying home. Protective efforts include fire retardant drops and burnout operations to help keep the fire from reaching the structure, according to public information officer C.T. Camel.
The fire was around half a mile from the structure Wednesday afternoon.
No other structures were under threat and no further evacuations planned as of Wednesday afternoon, but road closures in the area remained in effect with more under consideration depending on the level of continued fire activity.
Without the relief of normal temperature drops overnight, spot fires continued to move the fire farther east and south.
The blaze was well established in several small drainages on Flathead Reservation land around Garden Creek.
Approximately 180 fire personnel remained on the scene Wednesday.
Camel gave a rough estimate of 5 percent containment, but said there was no real way of knowing how much of the blaze had been contained.
The Tenmile Fire in the Kootenai National Forest grew to nearly 570 acres Wednesday, and containment dropped from 21 percent to 18 percent as windy conditions spurred unexpected growth.
The Davis Fire, also located in the Kootenai Forest, remained at 20 percent containment and held at 375 acres.
The Brownstone Fire burning in a remote area of the Bob Marshall Wilderness reached 370 acres with no reported containment. The majority of the fire’s growth occurred at the southern and western edges. Officials expected the fire to make short runs to the Flathead Alps between Brownstone Creek and the South Fork of Whitefish River and began positioning personnel and equipment at Big Prairie Work Center in anticipation of point protection.
Fire danger is rated very high or extreme across Western Montana.
Stage 2 fire restrictions go into effect at noon Friday in Missoula, Ravalli, Mineral and Sanders counties and the Flathead Indian Reservation. Stage 2 restrictions prohibit campfires and smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building.
Stage 1 fire restrictions are in effect for the Kootenai Forest and Lincoln County.
South Kalispell Fire Chief Chris Yerkes on Wednesday announced a district-wide burn ban for the South Kalispell Fire Department service area, effective Friday at 12 a.m.
Though no fire restrictions were put on Kalispell as of Wednesday, Yerkes said he felt the extreme fire danger conditions warranted extra precautions within his district.
Burn bans prohibit the use or tending of fires of any size for any purpose within the affected area.
Temperatures are expected to reach record-breaking levels Friday with a high of 102 degrees possible in the Kalispell area.
Due to nearby fire activity, some areas were expected to see smoke conditions considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.
The high-pressure ridge responsible for the widespread smoky conditions was expected move out on Saturday and be replaced by a cooler low-pressure system.
The change in pressure will likely bring higher winds, reaching up to 20 mph on Friday and 35 mph on Saturday, which will increase visibility by clearing out some of the smoke, but will also create favorable conditions for higher fire activity.
In preparation for the hazardous weather conditions in the forecast for the remainder of the week, Area Fire Management Officer Wyatt Frampton with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said the agency has begun pulling more resources into the region, including two super scoopers, 12 helicopters and miscellaneous ground equipment and personnel.
According to Frampton, the valley has not seen a widespread wetting rain in 35 days, and dead and downed fuels are currently as dry as kindling.
“We have at least another month of hot dry weather. Usually we don’t get a wetting rain until probably the middle of September, but even sometimes that doesn’t come,” said Tally Lake District Fire Management Officer Manny Mendoza. “We’re in it here probably for at least the next 30 days.”
Mendoza said that as fire season continues to escalate, priority response goes to initial attack on new starts and structure and property protection.
“If somebody starts a campfire, we don’t quite have the resources to respond to those,” he said.
Fire Service Area Manager Lincoln Chute reiterated an interagency call for the public to act responsibly and play its part in preventing human-caused starts, which pull local resources away from other calls like structure fires, car accidents and EMS situations.
Restrictions coordinating representatives from various county, state and federal agencies meet each Tuesday morning to determine whether restrictions are necessary given weather forecasts, available resources and current fire conditions.
Chute said the Flathead Valley so far has not seen the number of human-caused starts that could potentially be avoided by implementing fire restrictions, but conditions could change over the coming week.
Flathead Forest spokesperson Janette Turk encouraged citizens to consider self-imposed restrictions, limit hazardous activities including use of heavy equipment to cooler times in the day, keep campfires small and share fire information via social media.
For updates on restriction in your area, visit https;//firerestrictions.us.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.