Char-Koosta News

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Weekend lightning storms ignite fires on Flathead Reservation

By B.L. Azure

RONAN — A weekend storm loaded with rain, hail, lightning and thunder in western Montana ignited numerous wildfires in the area including some on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Curt Matt, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire prevention specialist, said Monday that some of the nearly 4,000 lightning strikes in the area struck reservation terra firma and caused a few fires. The fires were mostly in the southern portion of the reservation in the Jocko Valley and Valley Creek areas near Arlee.

The DOF has firefighters on patrol throughout the reservation and their quick response has kept the fires relatively small before being contained. There is also monitoring from the air with DOF contract helicopters.

The DOF has 50 firefighters dispatched to a pair of lightning caused fires northwest of Arlee. There are two skidgins and one cat aiding the effort. As of Monday the Saddle Mountain fire has burned four acres and the North Valley Creek fire has consumed 11 acres.

A small half-acre fire near Yellow Lake in the Jocko was also brought under control.

All the fires are now in mop-up stage.

A fire just south of the reservation boundary in the Butler Creek drainage has been smoking up reservation skies. The fire has consumed more than 80 acres and U.S. Forest Service officials are concerned that it may move onto the reservation. The DOF has two observers on site monitoring the situation.

Matt said the increased fire activity and forecasts of hot and dry weather as well as now being in the “official” fire season would result in the DOF keeping its firefighters and equipment close to home on the reservation. The fire season is generally from mid-July through September or until fall rains dampen the wildfire potential.

“All of our personnel will remain here for the rest of the fire season unless we get substantial amounts of rain,” Matt said. “We’re ready for the hot and dry week ahead of us.”

The five-day weather forecast calls for sunny days with no precipitation and daytime temperatures in the low 90s and high 80s.

The current fire index in the western portion of the reservation is “Very High” and the eastern portion is “High.” Matt said the east portion of the reservation fire index would probably be ramped up to “Very High” by the weekend.

“We’ll probably follow suit with the neighboring counties and, state and national forests that went up to ‘Very High’ Tuesday,” Matt said.

There are no restrictions on the reservation other than along the Flathead River corridor where fires of any type including campfires are prohibited.

The ban on open burning continues and DOF is not issuing any burning permits until further notice.

The DOF has one engine with two people dispatched to Wyoming. They also have an overhead person there. The DOF contract helicopter is on assignment in the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests.

As a precaution people should: always carry an ax, bucket, water and shovel; build campfires in a designated fire enclosure and the fire should never be left unattended; extinguished cigarettes and dispose them in an appropriate container; and, be aware of any fire restrictions in the area.

For more information or to report a fire, contact Division of Fire at 676-2550.

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