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Hot, dry weather increases fire activity

by Daily Inter Lake
| August 16, 2023 9:00 AM

A wildfire burning on the Swan Range blew up Tuesday afternoon, sending off a massive plume of smoke that was visible across the Flathead Valley.

The lightning-caused Doris Point Fire, originally detected July 30, was sized at 250 acres Tuesday evening. It is located on the Flathead National Forest on the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir.

Forest officials said firefighting crews were assessing the situation. The fire is not burning near any homes or private property.

California Interagency Incident Management Team 4 was expected to take command of the Doris Point Fire Wednesday morning. Team 4 took command of the nearby Ridge Fire on Aug. 9.

THE VALLEYS of Western Montana are under heat and fire advisories through Thursday with triple-digit temperatures possible across the region.

In the Flathead and Mission valleys, potentially record-high temperatures between 97 and 103 are expected, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula. Libby will be among the hottest areas, with highs of 103 possible Wednesday and Thursday.

During the heatwave, people are advised to take extra precautions when working or recreating outside, to drink fluids and stay out of the sun, and to check up on relatives and neighbors.

A fire weather watch for Western Montana was issued through Thursday with low humidity and gusty winds in the forecast.

“The real heat is still over the Pacific Northwest, but it is headed our way,” warned meteorologist Daniel Borsum with Predictive Services. “With this hot and dry weather coming in, a lot of the fires are picking up in intensity.”

He said the critical fire weather peaks on Thursday before a round of monsoonal precipitation and cooler temperatures move over the region beginning Friday.

“We’re watching this closely,” Borsum said. “[The rain] could bring substantial relief.”

He said the extended forecast shows the monsoonal pattern being supplemented by some hurricane activity off California, which would be conducive for continued precipitation chances.

High temperatures will be in the mid-70s by Monday.

FIRE CREWS continued to make progress on controlling the Ridge Fire along the Hungry Horse Reservoir.

The lightning-caused fire had burned 3,175 acres around Emery Bay as of Tuesday and was 12% contained. Approximately 485 firefighters were assigned to the incident under the command of a Type 1 team from California. Cost to fight the fire was estimated at about $6 million.

Hand lines were constructed along the southern and western flanks Tuesday, and mop-up efforts were pushed to approximately 100 feet inside the fire line in these areas.

On the east perimeter, aerial firefighting was “active and robust,” fire managers said, with four large air tankers dropping fire retardant and two scooper airplanes and three helicopters dousing the fire directly.

An indirect contingency line under construction west of the fire up to Halfmoon Fits Road was moving toward completion, fire managers reported.

South of the Ridge and Doris Point fires, activity was expected to ramp up on Tin Solider Complex. The group of fires are burning on the west side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir and South Fork of the Flathead River.

Smoke columns from the complex could be visible from the Flathead Valley this week, forest officials said.

Hungry Horse Reservoir remained closed to all public access, including both the east and west side roads.

CONTAINMENT OF the 20,365-acre Niarada Fire west of Elmo reached 81% on Tuesday.

Firing operations were planned to help expand containment on the south side of the fire.

“Fighting fire with fire, firefighters will ignite the vegetation along prepared fire lines to burn fuels between the lines and the wildfire’s edge,” fire managers explained. “Ultimately, a deeper black line is created and secured, increasing containment and reducing risk.”

Increased smoke was possible due to the operations. Crews were patrolling and mopping other areas.

The nearby Mill Pocket Fire was estimated at 2,135 acres and 89% contained.

Cost to fight the Niarada Fire was estimated at $7.4 million, while the Mill Pocket cost $1.6 million.

The Colt Fire northwest of Seeley Lake reached 45% containment Tuesday at 7,202 acres.

It had cost $23.6 million to date. No structures had been destroyed.