Crews gain ground on new local fires

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Bryan Olson, left, and Christopher Smith from the Murphy Lake Ranger Station stand near a portable water tank as they watch the Fitzsimmons Creek Fire burn Tuesday afternoon east of Stryker.

Firefighters continued to tangle with a new fire east of Stryker while two fires in the Bob Marshall Wilderness were mostly unaffected by stiff winds Tuesday.

Soon after the Fitzsimmons Fire was detected Monday near the confluence of Fitzsimmons Creek and upper Stillwater Creek, it grew to 60 acres in steep, timbered terrain.

“They do have it 75 percent lined,” said Brian Manning, manager of the Stillwater State Forest. “The fire behavior was moderate enough that they could work on it directly today with some air support.”

The fire raises concerns about the potential for it to move upslope into the Whitefish Range.

“There’s a lot of acreage and fuels to the north and east, so we’re always concerned about that,” Manning said. “It will be harder to deal with logistically if it gets much larger.”

Two hot shot crews and a 10-man crew are on the fire, along with engines, two heavy helicopters and a medium helicopter.

In August alone, the Kalispell Interagency Fire dispatch has responded to 58 fires with state, Forest Service and rural fire department personnel.

On Tuesday, firefighters buttoned up a fireline around a half-acre fire southwest of Tally Lake that required the help of three helicopters the day before, and firefighters were responding to a half-acre fire burning in heavy timber just inside the Great Bear Wilderness in the Middle Fork Flathead drainage.

Meanwhile in the wilderness, there was little growth on the Hammer Creek and Big Salmon Lake fires despite strong winds.

“Those fires have not had a significant increase in size, but we’re still seeing fire burning within the existing perimeters,” Spotted Bear District Ranger Deb Mucklow said. “We have high winds reported on both fires, but it hasn’t caused the movement that we’ve seen previously.”

The Hammer Creek Fire has covered 1,550 acres north of the Big Prairie Ranger Station. The Big Salmon Lake Fire has burned 2,800 acres east of Holland Pass.

Mucklow said management actions on the fires are largely aimed at protecting wilderness access and there has been a concerted effort to provide access information to wilderness users.

Just outside the wilderness about seven miles southeast of Swan Lake, the South Lost Creek Fire most recently was estimated at 1,215 acres.

It is considered 35 percent contained and is expected to be active for several weeks, but it has been contained to a point where personnel have been downsized from about 190 last week to about 100 people this week.


This map shows the progression of the Hammer Creek Fire, which started Aug. 8 in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.


This map shows the area covered by the Big Salmon Lake Fire as of Aug. 21. 

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