Missoula Story of the Week: Montana Summer Wild Fires

By TOM DIDDEL

The cooler weather Missoulians felt earlier this week may have been a relief to some who have grown tired of the multitude of 90-degree days the region has experienced over the past few weeks.

With the cooler weather, however, came high winds and little to no rain, a weather scenario that has fueled some area wildfires.

Firefighting crews from all over the country have begun to trickle into the region to help contain and fight Montana’s blazes. Even a crew from New York State has arrived to fight the 9,000-acre West Garceau fire near Polson, according to KPAX.com.

The Elbow Pass Complex fires have eaten up nearly 17,500 acres of the Lewis and Clark National Forest at a cost of over $3.4 million dollars. The fires were sparked in mid-July and were aided by recent winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour that were associated with the area’s recent cold front. The fire did receive some rain with the passing front which helped slow the blaze’s progress.

Near Condon, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness the Prison Lake fire also received some precipitation along with cooler temperatures significantly slowing the fire’s activity. The fire was spotted late last month and has burned nearly 4,080 acres 25 miles east of Condon, according to KPAX.com’s FireWatch.

A slurry bomber douses a Western Montana wild fire. Photo by PaulQueneau.

While the aforementioned wildfires seem to be caused by lightning, an abandoned campfire near Lake Como was responsible for a three acre blaze started Monday. It appears someone left a campfire still smoldering and the fire escaped the rock-ring.

Officials urge people visiting the area’s forests to make sure their fires are “dead out” and cold to the touch before leaving them. Forest spokesperson Tod McKay stated the fire was the fourth unattended campfire crews had come across in recent days.

With temperatures climbing back into the 90s over the weekend, fire crews will likely be very busy in the closing weeks of August. Officials urge backcountry travelers to use caution and adhere to all fire restrictions to prevent any human caused fire activity from occurring.

The Forest Service also asks anyone with information regarding the unattended campfire at Lake Como to call 1800.TIP.MONT or Ravalli County Crimestoppers at 406.363.0062.

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Each week, Tom Diddel recaps the week’s most talked-about story in Missoula. Visit the Make it Missoula News & Opinion section for more talk of the town.

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Tom Diddel has lived in Missoula on and off for nearly thirty-eight years. He enjoys skiing, hiking, and many other outdoor activities. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Montana and is currently working as a Freelance Writer and a Para-Educator.