1,000 Homes Lost to Wildfires

Over 1,000 homes have been destroyed due to wildfires across the country, while Montana leads the nation in the number and sheer size of wildfires.  One fire, the Ash Creek Fire near Lame Deer in Southeast Montana, now covers more than 246 square miles, according to The Great Falls Tribune.

Meanwhile, as an update to an earlier report I gave you last week- a request from the State of Montana for a DC-10 air tanker to help fight the fires has been approved, according to Paula Short with the DNRC.  The DC-10 carries 20,000 gallons of water. 

The LA Times has this:

From Montana to New Mexico, record-setting wildfires are charring mountains, valleys and houses, leaving behind a heady toll of about 1,000 homes lost — a number that may only increase through a punishingly hot and dry summer.

The Waldo Canyon fire on the outskirts of Colorado Springs — which recently climbed into national headlines by forcing tens of thousands of evacuations — has engulfed at least 346 homes, and firefighters have it only 45% contained.

Although most of Montana’s wildfires are in Eastern Montana, The Missoulian says the risk is rising in Western Montana as well.  This, as Montana now leads the nation with the largest and most fires burning.   

As Brett French reports:

The Big Sky state has a smoky haze caused by 10 large fires burning, topping Colorado with seven and Utah with eight, according to information from the National Interagency Fire Center.

Nationally, more than 900,000 acres have burned or are burning. Hot dry weather, the promise of lightning and steady winds threatened to dramatically expand fires burning in Eastern Montana on Sunday, as well as create new ones.

As crews battle existing fires that have already ravaged nearly a hundred homes here in Montana, more are breaking out.  Over the weekend a new fire started south of Hysham, threatening homes and a natural gas pipeline between Miles City and Billings.  

UPDATE:  As mentioned on Voices of Montana at 9:15 AM Monday, the Horse Creek Fire was reportedly topping 20,000 acres according to the DNRC.  However, later Monday they updated that number at just over 6,000 acres.  

Here’s the latest on the Horse Creek Fire from Paula Short with the DNRC:

Blaze estimated at 5,000-10,000 Acres; Evacuations Ordered

July 2, 2012, 7:45am, Billings, Montana – The Horse Creek Fire, 20 miles south of Hysham in Treasure County, is estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 acres this morning. The Montana DNRC, along with Treasure County firefighters and resources from neighboring counties, responded yesterday afternoon and evening. Challenged by locally gusty winds from a passing cold front, firefighters worked through the night on structure protection as the fire marched southeast. Evacuations for some homes in the Sarpy Creek and Horse Creek drainages were ordered last night.

Resources from neighboring incidents were called upon for assistance. There are 12 engines, a dozer and approximately 36 people working on the blaze. The growth potential for the fire is high, as it is burning in grass and timber in steep terrain. Today’s predicted high temperatures, along with an anticipated cold front which will bring the possibility of more lightning and increased winds, will continue to challenge firefighters. Aerial resources – air tankers and helicopters – will be available to assist firefighters on the ground today. The Horse Creek fire is 0% contained; the cause of the blaze is under investigation.

Yesterday’s cold front also sparked a new fire near Hardin. 

Here’s the latest on the Dahl Fire south of Roundup.  Residents there are hoping to be free of that fire on Independence Day, as that fire is expected to be fully contained by the 4th of July.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         July 2, 2012   8:00 a.m.
FIRE NAME:  Dahl Fire
DATE OF DETECTION:  June 26, 2012

CAUSE: Lightning

CURRENT SIZE:  22,045 acres                                          



LOCATION:  12 miles southeast of Roundup, Montana      

AGENCY:  Montana Department of Natural Resources

FIRE MANAGEMENT TEAM: Northern Rockies Incident Management Team, Incident Commander Greg Poncin.  The IMT operates in Unified Command with Musselshell County, Incident Commander Jeff Gates.

TODAY’S WEATHER AND PLANNED ACTIVITY: Winds from last night’s thunderstorm activity impacted the residents and fire line primarily along the northeast side of the fire on both sides of U.S. Highway 87, but all lines held throughout the night.  No new fire starts were reported in the immediate area of the fire, but several new fires are being reported in eastern Montana this morning from lightning.  As a result, some firefighting resources on the Dahl fire have been reassigned to these new fires, including 2 helicopters.

Today’s weather will be sunny and a bit cooler with temperatures in the mid-80’s and relative humidity of 20-25%.   Winds will be out of the north/northwest at 8 to 16 miles per hour.  However, after 4 pm there will be a buildup of cumulus clouds and a chance of isolated thunderstorms over the fire area.

Firefighters will continue to mop-up and improve fire lines this morning on a “seek and destroy” effort to pick up all heat and smoke near residences and along the fire line.  Due to reduced fire activity and the wind test on the fire line last night, demobilization of fire resources will start in earnest today.  Initial attack resources will remain available for any new fire starts as a result of holdovers from last night’s lightning.  An updated structural assessment has accounted for 223 structures lost, including 73 residences and 150 other buildings.

The Hawk Creek fire at, 540 acres and 95% contained, remains in mop-up and patrol status.

The next frontal passage with thunderstorms is expected Tuesday, followed by extremely hot and dry weather.

PERSONNEL AND RESOURCES ON THE FIRE:  There are currently 335 fire personnel assigned this morning and this number and the amount of equipment will decrease as demobilization occurs throughout the day.  To start the day, this includes seven 20-person crews, 4 helicopters, 27 engines and 2 skidgines.  Many of the resources leaving this fire will be reassigned to the Horse Creek fire near Hysham, Montana.

SPECIAL CONCERNS:  Vehicle traffic on US Highway 87 remains a major safety issue for firefighters and residents as firefighting equipment enters and exits side roads from the highway. 

CLOSURES: The temporary flight restriction (TFR) for the fire area remains in effect beyond the fire perimeter and 10,000 feet above the fire in order to safeguard aerial operations.

SPECIAL MESSAGES: The evacuation order was reduced to voluntary compliance on Friday, June 29th, and will remain in effect until further notice.  Residents have been allowed back into the evacuation area at their own risk but are under a 1-hour evacuation notice in the event that fire activity increases and poses a threat to their safety.  If evacuations become necessary, use extra caution driving while exiting the fire area.     

The speed limit on US HWY 87 is 35 mph. Drivers are not allowed to stop or pull over. Only residents and firefighters are allowed on the side roads.

 For the latest closure details, fire information, along with maps and photos visit www.inciweb.org, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dahlfire or on the Roundup DES Facebook page.

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