Blog Cabin

Entries in forest fires (5)


Fish Creek fire grows nearly fivefold in past 24-hours

Heavy smoke covered the Fish Creek Valley Friday night- MTN photo(SUPERIOR)- The lighting-caused West Fork Fish Crew fire is now nearly five times the size it was Friday night, consuming nearly 12,000 acres, according to the latest maps. 

Fire managers say the blaze had blown up an additional 9,000 acres in the dry, windy and smoky conditions Friday evening, destroying 5-structures at the Forest Service administrative site. But so far, crews have been able to save all the private cabins and structures in the area. 

The Mineral County Sheriff's Office ordered evacuations Friday evening, and those orders remain in place tonight for all of Fish Creek Road from I-90 to the Mineral County-Missoula County border. Essentially the closure includes all of the Ninemile Ranger District south of the freeway. 

A Type 2 Incident Management Team took over the fire Friday evening, in advance of a cold front sweeping through the region that saw some of the higher elevation wind gusts approaching 60-miles per hour. A Type 1 hot shot crew, 2-engines, 2-watertenders and 2-aircraft are trying to protect structures in the valley. 

Crews are hoping to be able to use more helicopter water drops on the fire Sunday if smoke begins to lift as forecast. 


Change in weather helps air quality

Gates of the Mountains- USFS photo(HELENA)-  A change in the weather has not only made temperatures more comfortable across the state, it's also helped improve air quality. 

Several regions have been coping with smoke from wildfires in Idaho and Eastern Washington that has continued to pour into Western Montana the past several days. Smaller fires in Montana have also been contributing to the haze. 

But now, Montana DEQ reports Tuesday's gusty winds and thunderstorms have helped to clear the air in some areas.

DEQ says the Flathead Valley, and parts of Southwest Montana continued to have some smoke today. The air in the Flathead is still rated Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Moderate air quality is reported in Billings. 

The forecast is for a continuation of unsettled weather the rest of the week, with more showers and thunderstorms helping to "scrub" the air. However, fire activity in Central Idaho could also deliver more smoke into Western Montana. 


Hundreds show up to celebrate Neptune Aviation birthday

Dennis Bragg photo(MISSOULA)- Hundreds of people turned out Saturday to help Missoula-based Neptune Aviation celebrate its 20th anniversary, getting a rare behind-the-scenes look at the aerial firefighting company. 

Neptune started in the early 1990s, when a local group of business owners purchased New Mexico-based Black Hills Aviation. That gave the company its first of the venerable P2V air tankers and other gear, which was then moved to Missoula, in addition to keeping the base in Alamogordo.  

It's a relationship that fills both an economic development and business role, but also a safety role, Just like this past summer, Neptune planes frequently coming to the rescue of their neighbors when wildfire hits here in Western Montana. 

"We have over 100 employees that live here in Missoula," notes Chief Operating Officer Dan Snyder. "And of course all their family associated with them. So if you were to put a number to it it's over 300-people that are tied into the Missoula community."

People attending this weekend's open house were treated to tours of the planes, including the company's "next gen" jet-powered airtankers, free food, live music and prizes. They even got to see a few demonstration runs as the planes made water drops over the Missoula runway. 


Tester says Forest Service tanker deal puts Montana "at risk"

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)- Senator Jon Tester is upset with the Forest Service's decision to award contracts for "next generation" air tankers to companies which still don't have their jets ready to fight fires. 

The criticism came at a hearing in Washington Wednesday, when Tester grilled Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell during a budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Earlier this month the Forest Service announced it was awarding a contract for 7-new tankers to several companies after starting over on the bidding process last year. That decision left Missoula's Neptune Aviation off the list, even though Neptune had initially won the first contract last year and is one of the few operators with jet tankers ready to go. 

Neptune is appealing that decision. 

Tester says the Forest Service left "better options on the table", and not having all the tankers ready this year puts Montana communities at risk this fire season. 

“I’ve seen what’s happened in Montana’s forests, and I can’t figure out why the award was made how it was,” Tester told Tidwell.  “My problem is there are better options on the table to be taken up by the Forest Service and you didn’t do it.”

Tidwell said the new planes still need to be tested. 




Forest Service would use mapping to protect wildlife from retardant

USFS photoThe U.S. Forest Service says it will use better mapping to keep from dropping fire retardant on habitat for endangered species.

That’s the preferred alternative in a new final environmental impact statement that sets up better precautions for minimizing the impact of retardant drops. The EIS was drawn up at the order of the U.S. District Court in Missoula, which ordered the agency to complete a further analysis on ways to keep retardant from harming “endangered, threatened or sensitive species” and their habitat last summer.

The plan, worked up with the help of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the NOAA Fisheries Service, would have the Forest Service completely map land and water areas to protect endangered species. Firefighters would only be able to do aerial retardant drops into waterways when “human life or public safety is threatened.”

The “preferred alternative” also sets new protocols for better protection of cultural resources like historic properties, “traditional cultural resources” and sacred tribal sites.

The alternative isn’t final, and is one of three possible “tools” the agency could use to fight fires in rugged topography and remote locations such as here in the Northern Rockies.

“This final environmental impact statement is a vital step informing our decision,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We’re approaching that decision as carefully as possible – we’re going to make sure we get this right, so we can protect our forests, wildlife, and the public.”

A final decision is expected to be issued by the end of the year.