10/05/2011 12:58 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The Bitterroot National Forest is reopening an area on Wednesday in the Darby Ranger District that's been closed due to the 41 Complex Fires.
The closure has been in place since S… Click to Read More and see additional updates
10/05/2011 12:58 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The Bitterroot National Forest is reopening an area on Wednesday in the Darby Ranger District that's been closed due to the 41 Complex Fires.
The closure has been in place since September 7th when the fires, pushed by hot and dry conditions and strong winds more than doubled in size and burned across Skalkaho Highway.
"I would like to thank the public for their patience over the last month," said Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor Julie King. "We know these closures and the smoke here in the valley were a major inconvenience to many, especially hunters, and we appreciate everyone working with us and respecting the closures.
King added that even though the area reopened at 1 p.m. Wednesday, anyone traveling in the area should, "be extremely careful when returning to these areas as there are still many hazards out there."
The Montana Transportation Department is also planning to reopened Skalkaho Pass on Wednesday afternoon. The road has been closed since September 5th between mile post 14 and mile post 26 due to the 41 Complex fires.
Tod McKay with the Bitterroot National Forest says that the public will also soon be able to use Butterfly Road #364 at the Darby/Stevensville District Boundary and Gird Creek Road #714 will re-open at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday.
The 41 Complex fires are still burning in the Sapphire Mountains outside of Hamilton and have scorched over 15,100 acres since being sparked by lightning on August 28th.
10/03/2011 12:34 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- Bitterroot National Forest officials report the thunderstorms that brought rain to the valley on Saturday night also packed quite a bit of lightning that sparked a quartet of new fires.
The Forest's Tod McKay says that two of the blazes were spotted Saturday night on the West Fork Ranger District and two additional ones were reported Sunday on the Darby Ranger District.
Three of the fires were small, approximately .10 acre each and are contained. The largest fire is estimated at four acres and is currently burning in Robbins Gulch on the Darby District east of Connor.
It's located on private land and three engines and 20 firefighters are on the scene working to contain the Robbins Gulch fire.
No structures are threatened and McKay reports the blaze is burning in grass and timber in steep, rugged terrain and crews may again call for helicopter water drops to cool hot spots, like they did on Sunday.
Elsewhere, the Up Top fire burned actively over the weekend especially on the north and east sides near Saint Clair Creek and Dam Lake, and grew by another 500 acres. The fire is one of three in the 41 Complex burning in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton. It's scorched a total of 12,380 acres.
Fire managers have reopened Railroad Creek Road #711 and the closure on Skalkaho Highway will move up to mile post 17, from mile post 14 according to McKay. The highway, which the Montana Transportation Department closed back on September 5th, remains shutdown from mile post 17 to mile post 26, until further notice.
Meanwhile, the 5,000 gallon portable water tank set up on Skalkaho Highway as a helicopter water source was removed over the weekend and crews are now focusing on patrolling and extinguishing hot spots and doing rehabilitation work on constructed fire line.
The weather forecast is calling for a significant cooling trend later this week bringing fall like temperatures and rain showers to our area which McKay says should greatly minimize activity on all remaining fires.
The Coyote Meadows and Fox Peak fires remain unstaffed and showed very little heat activity over the weekend. But, the 41 Complex fire has burned a total of 14,241 acres so far.
The Hells Half Acre Complex fire is also still burning in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness on the West Fork Ranger District. The fires burned actively this weekend and have grown to approximately 2,000 acres.
Finally, area closures have been lifted on both the Montana and Idaho side of the 32,636 acre Saddle Complex Fire that's burning south of Painted Rocks Reservoir.
However, there are still several roads closed in Idaho including the road to Blue Nose Lookout and road #44 at the junction with road #5669 - Beaver Creek Road. The Horse Creek Hotsprings Campground is also closed.
McKay pointed out that although many closures have been lifted, fire managers are advising the public to use caution when returning to these areas. An information board has been set-up at the end of West Fork Road with the latest maps and fire information.
09/26/2011 12:49 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The Up Top Fire was pushed to the north and east by 25 mph winds on Sunday and grew by another 1,100 acres according to Tod McKay with the Bitterroot National Forest.
The fire is one of three burning in the 41 Complex in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton. Up Top fire grew to 10,792 acres over the weekend and continued to burn actively on both sides of Skalkaho Highway.
Fire crews reported single and group tree torching and short range spotting and late Sunday as temperatures reached near record highs with single digit humidity's, the fire spotted over the top of the ridge onto the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest, northeast of Dam Lake.
Most of the activity over the weekend occurred on the north side of the fire above Skalkaho Highway and to the east of Dam Lake.
Two helicopters dropped 56,200 gallons of water on hot spots along the Skalkaho Highway corridor Sunday and overall, aircraft have dropped more than 500,000 gallons of water and approximately 100,000 gallons of retardant on the 41 Complex fires.
Skalkaho Highway remains closed between mile posts 14 and 26 and fire crews continue to clear hazard trees, burning and rolling debris, and rocks which are falling from the fire area onto the highway.
McKay says fire crews plan to continue to mop-up on the western perimeter closest to private lands. Along with patrolling and extinguishing hot spots, they will also be doing fire line rehabilitation and constructing water bars to prevent erosion.
Meanwhile, the Coyote Meadows and Fox Peak fires remain unstaffed. The Fox Peak fire grew by approximately 20 acres over the weekend to 298 acres. Last week, the area closure around the Coyote Meadows fire was lifted opening Skalkaho Rye Road #75, Barnett Meadows, Moose Meadows and Trail # 87.
09/23/2011 11:57 AM by Breanna Roy (KPAX News)
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fires heat back up in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton.
Thursday's dry, warm air encouraged flames to stoke up again and the weekend weather outlook prompted fire managers to extend road closures. The Montana Department of Transportation will move the Skalkaho Highway closure move back down to mile post 14 after being open up to post 17 during calmer fire activity. In addition, Railroad Creek Road #711 is now closed.
Fire crews say the fire is moving away from private property and structures as existing fire lines hold on the west boundaries of the fire, but now the flames are moving on the north and south sides of the fire.
Bitterroot National Forest public affairs officer Tod McKay said crews began installing a 5,000 gallon water tank Friday morning on Skalkaho Highway for helicopter water drops. Aircraft have already dropped 450,000 gallons of water and about 100,000 gallons of retardant on the fires.
So far the 41 Complex fires burned 11,480 acres.
09/19/2011 08:55 AM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fire has cost nearly $5 million to fight and has burned nearly 11,500 acres in the Sapphire Mountains just east of Hamilton.
The blaze has seen little recent growth and the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team will turn over management of the 41 Fire Complex to the Bitterroot National Forest at 6 p.m. on Monday.
Firefighters are continuing mop-up on the northwest, west and southwest sides of the Up Top fire in
the area of the fire closest to private lands and have been aided in recent days by moisture and cooler temperatures.
But fire managers caution that the blaze is still burning in downed logs, stumps, root systems, snags, and on the surface under dense tree cover where limited rain fall made it to the ground.
"Things will dry out this week as high pressure build in,"Incident Meteorologist Mark Loeffelbein warned. Warmer temperatures will begin moving into the area Tuesday with the possibility of record high temperatures returning by the weekend.
Fire officials predict that the smoke from the 41 Complex fire is expected to increase and be more visible from the Bitterroot Valley during the week as the fire becomes more active with the increasing temperatures.
There are still just under 210 people assigned to fight the fire that was sparked on August 28th and the Skalkaho Highway remains closed to the public.
(photo courtesy inciweb.org)
09/18/2011 09:49 AM by KPAX News
HAMILTON - Firefighters will continue mop-up on the northwest, west and southwest sides of the Up Top fire in the area of the fire closest to private lands. Their goal is to mop-up at least 100 feet into the fire from the fire lines before management is turned back to the Bitterroot National Forest on Monday afternoon. Some crews and equipment will remain on the fire after Monday.
Recent moisture and cooler temperatures has aided in mop-up efforts, however, fire remains burning in downed logs, stumps, root systems, snags, and on the surface under dense tree cover where limited rain fall made it to the ground. On the north and northwest side of the fire, crews continued to reinforce a control line along Forest Service road 364 and the fire line is tied into the Skalkaho Highway on the southwest side. Smoke over the fire may once again be visible from the Bitterroot Valley over the next few days as warm, dry weather returns to the area.
Skalkaho Highway remains closed to the public because the fire has burned down to, and crossed, the road. Snags, rolling rocks and fire adjacent to the road are serious safety hazards that firefighters still have to deal with before the road can be opened. Sprinkler systems will remain in place around Skalkaho Falls as well as Mud Lake and Crystal Creek campgrounds on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in case the fire begins to burn actively again.
The Coyote Meadows and Fox Peak fires remain unstaffed.
09/17/2011 08:39 AM by KPAX News
HAMILTON - Firefighters will continue mop-up on the northwest, west and southwest sides of the Up Top fire to protect private property to the west. The Up Top fire is now 20% contained and the fire line is now tied into the Skalkaho Highway on the southwest side of the fire.
The 41 Complex Fires, including the Up Top Fire, have burned 11,480 acres and have cost $4.4 million to fight.
While some firefighting resources are being released, other crews and equipment will remain on the fire when management is turned back to the Bitterroot National Forest on Tuesday.
Skalkaho Highway remains closed to the public because the fire has burned down to, and crossed, the road. Snags, rolling rocks and fire adjacent to the road are serious safety hazards that firefighters still have to deal with before the road can be opened. Sprinkler systems remain in place around Skalkaho Falls as well as Mud Lake and Crystal Creek campgrounds on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
The Coyote Meadows and Fox Peak fires remain unstaffed and showed very little fire activity Saturday.
Smoke may return to settle in the Bitterroot Valley towards the end of next week. Contact Ravalli County Public Health @ 375-6577 or www.todaysair.mt.gov for additional information. The public can view photographs of the 41 Complex Fire and other information at www.inciweb.org.
09/15/2011 10:02 PM by Dennis Bragg (KPAX/KAJ Media Center)
HAMILTON- A strong atmospheric inversion with heavy smoke keep helicopters grounded on the Up Top Fire in the Sapphire Mountains Thursday. But Bitterroot National Forest says crews continued to get work on the done to try and limit the spread of the fire onto private property.
The Up Top remains the largest of the four fires that make up the 41 Complex about 10-miles east of Hamilton. It's burned more than 9,600 acres of the 11,400 acres burned since the fires started in a brief lightning storm over the Sapphires on August 28th.
Helicopters were able to deliver some 70,000 gallons of water and fire retardant on the fires Wednesday. But smoke interfered with the aerial attack on Thursday.
Crews are continuing to beef up lines around the fire, especially on the west side, where the blaze is bordering private lands. Additional work is happening along the Skalkaho Highway, which is closed to traffic right now. Crews are clearing downed trees and snags along the road and grading the road to provide better access to the northeastern edge of the fire.
Of the four fires, only the smaller 41 Fire is 100% contained. Crews only have about 10% containment on the Up Top Fire, although there's hope cooler weather and some showers could make the fire less active in the coming days.
09/15/2011 01:19 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- Fire officials are gearing up for a change in the weather on Thursday that could bring wind gusts of up to 25 mph at the site of the 41 Complex fire burning near Hamilton.
The blazes have burned a total of 11,480 acres and it's cost $3.4 million so far to fight the fires that are burning in the Sapphire Mountains.
Firefighters are still working on building up the existing firelines on the west side of the Up Top fire, the largest of the blazes that were all sparked by lightning last month.
Tod McKay with the Bitterroot National Forest reports that aircraft dropped 50,000 gallons of water and 20,000 gallons of retardant on the Up Top Fire on Wednesday.
Nearly 375 people are assigned to the 41 Complex fire along with 13 engines and a trio of helicopters.
Fire managers say there will be increased fire traffic on Hamilton Heights Road, Skalkaho Highway, and Tammany Lane as firefighters access the northwest side of the Up Top Fire.
A fire information trailer has been set up at Canyon Valley Church on Skalkaho Highway and is open from 12 p.m. until 7 p.m.
09/14/2011 11:29 AM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fires have grown to over 11,000 acres and officials say the price tag to fight the blazes burning in the Sapphire Mountains is now at over $3 million.
There are over 365 people along with 14 engines and three helicopters currently fighting the lightning-sparked blaze that ignited on August 28th.
Firefighters are continuing to work on solidifying the fire lines on the northwest, west and south side of the Up Top Fire to brace for possible winds.
Three hotshot crews are close to connecting fireline along the northwest side of the Up Top Fire to keep the fire out of Saint Clair Creek.
Crews are also expected to make slow, steady, and sure progress in this area according to fire managers. But the work in the area is being hampered due to the steepness of the terrain, density of the vegetation and rolling materials.
The Up Top Fire has spread northeast past Skalkaho Falls, but pumps and sprinklers set up around the falls several days ago have protected the vegetation surrounding the falls area.
Firefighting resources are being concentrated on the Up Top Fire that's burned nearly 9,300 acres to reinforce firelines which will enhance the protection of private property.
The Skalkaho Highway remain closed between mile post 14 and mile post 30 due to the blaze. Several other trails and roads are also closed in the area.
(photo courtesy inciweb.org)
09/13/2011 01:12 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fire burning in the Sapphire Mountains outside of Hamilton is still growing and has now burned near 9,200 acres.
The largest of the blazes is the Up Top fire which has blown across over 7,500 acres with fire officials reporting it has grown northeast toward Skalkaho Falls. Meanwhile, the Coyote Meadows Fire grew to the southeast.
Tod McKay with the Bitterroot National Forest reports that firefighting resources have been moved from the Coyote Meadows Fire to the Up Top Fire in order to protect private property.
There are nearly 350 people assigned to fight the 41 Complex fire including 14 engines and three helicopters. The blaze has continued to pour smoke across the Bitterroot and Missoula valleys, contributing to continued poor air quality.
Fire officials say that increased fire traffic will be seen on Hamilton Heights Road as firefighters head up to the northwest side of the Up Top Fire.
An additional line is being constructed between the Up Top Fire and the private land to the west in case the fire crosses the main fire line.
All of the fires are expected to grow during the daily burning period due to continued hot, dry weather and active burning.
Skalkaho Highway remains closed between mile post 14 to mile post 30 and several area roads and trails also remain off-limits to the public. There is also a temporary flight restriction in place over the fire area with a ceiling of 12,000 feet.
(photo courtesy inicweb.org)
09/12/2011 02:17 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fires are now burning nearly 8,400 acres in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton as windy weather continues to hit the area.
Fire officials report that west winds have given the fires momentum to move toward the east, as evidenced by the acres gained on the Coyote and Fox Peak fires yesterday.
Crews are continuing to use an air assault to attack the Up Top Fire and have dropped 48,000 gallons of water and 22,000 gallons of retardant so far. Firefighters also completed a successful burn out operation over the weekend and additional burnouts may be performed on Monday afternoon.
The public can expect more fire traffic on Hamilton Heights Road as firefighters access the northwest side of the Up Top Fire.
There are over 320 people assigned to battle the blazes along with 14 engines and a pair of helicopters with fire officials saying that additional crews, helicopters and heavy equipment have been ordered to the scene.
Skalkaho Highway remains closed from mile post 14 to mile post 30 while Railroad Creek Road (Forest Road No. 711) is closed in its entirety from Skalkaho Rye Road #75 to Skalkaho Highway. Skalkaho Rye Road #75 is closed from the #720 junction to the junction of the #1394 road. Butterfly Road #364 is closed at the Darby/Stevensville District boundary.
In addition to road closures, a temporary flight restriction (TFR) has been placed over the fire area with a ceiling of 12,000 feet.
Here's a breakdown on the acres burned by the fires comprising the 41 Complex fires.
(photo courtesy inciweb.org)
09/12/2011 06:02 AM by Dennis Bragg (KPAX/KAJ Media Center)
HAMILTON- Firefighters aren't giving an inch in their battle against the 41 Complex fire, using every tool at their disposal to keep the blaze from spreading further through the Sapphire Mountains.
The blaze, which started when several lightning-caused fires combined last week, has now burned nearly 8,200 acres combined. The 41-fire is the only one of the four that has been contained. The Up Top, Coyote Meadow and Fox Peak are 0% contained.
The Up Top, which is the largest of the fires, has burned over 6,800 acres of the total. Over the weekend, fire crews used burnouts to destroy fuels for the fire in an effort to keep it from spreading down the Gird Creek drainage. That's what created the renewed smoke that could be seen from the Bitterroot Valley on Saturday and Sunday.
Fire managers made heavy use of aerial water drops throughout the day Sunday, with over 12 aircraft involved in the battle. Fire crews were spending the night in the backcountry to stay closer to the fire over the next several days.
Some of the firefighting efforts were interrupted Sunday when some local residents were caught riding ATVs in the closed area where the burnout was planned.
According to Incident Commander Greg Poncin, "Safety of firefighters and public is our primary concern. Although the purpose of the burnout was to widen the firebreak next to private property, we would have cancelled completely if there was any doubt about safety. The area closures are for the safety of the public and firefighters. I am asking the the public to help us do our job by honoring these closures."
(US Forest Service photo)
09/11/2011 05:21 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- Saturday night's burnout operation on the southwest side of the Up Top Fire. located in the Sapphire Mountains, was successful.
Aerial fire support was heavily used Saturday to aid firefighters. The burnout should reinforce the existing fire lines in this area of the Up Top Fire by eliminating fuels between the fire and fire lines.
Crews will remain spiked out overnight Sunday, to be closer to the fire for the next several days and continue more burnout operations, weather permitting.
Local residents may see increased smoke in the area of the fire as a result of this action. The Up Top fire has burned just over 6,000 acres.
09/10/2011 08:16 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON - Part of the 41 Complex fires burning 10 miles east of Hamilton in the Sapphire Mountains is now 100% contained. However the Up Top, Coyote Meadows, and Fox Peak fires totaling more than 7,500 acres, are still 0% contained.
At 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon fire managers began the planned burnout on the upper reaches of Gird Creek on the southwest side of the Up Top Fire. The burnout will reinforce the existing fire lines in this area of the Up Top Fire by reducing fuels between the fire and fire lines according to fire officials.
Crews will be spiked out overnight closer to the fire for the next several days and continue this operation, weather permitting. Local residents may see increased smoke in the area of the fire as a result of this action. Persistent hot dry weather and increased winds revealed 33 acres of fire near Fox Peak fire.
On the Up Top Fire, crews are constructing lines through heavy fuels in steep, rocky terrain on the west side of the fire. Line construction on the northwest side of the fire is being done where possible to connect existing road systems for use as the fireline.
Meanwhile, a secondary, contingency line is being constructed on private lands to the west in cooperation with the affected landowners. The focus for the majority of fire personnel will continue to be on the west side of the Up Top Fire for the next several days.
The Coyote Meadows fire is staffed with engines and crews as they continue work on line construction and the Fox Peak fire has grown, but not significantly as of Saturday.
All of the 41 Complex fires are expected to experience steadily increasing rates of spread during the daily burning period due to expanded fire size and continued hot, dry weather.
09/09/2011 11:24 AM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fires burning in the Sapphire Mountains near Hamilton have now grown to over 7,000 acres burned and the largest of the blazes, the Up Top fire, has scorched over 5,600 acres and is still 0% contained.
The fires continue to pour smoke into the Bitterroot and Missoula valleys causing air quality problems and filling the late summer skies with a gray, soupy haze.
There are still nearly 190 people are assigned to the fire, including three 20-person crews,
six engines and three helicopters while two more 20-person crews, helicopters and heavy equipment have been ordered in to battle the blaze.
A Northern Rockies Incident Command team is managing the 41 fire Complex Fire and weather forecasts call for continued hot and dry weather, that fire managers say provide ideal conditions for fire growth.
Tod McKay with the Bitterroot National Forest reports the Up Top Fire has the potential to be most active on Friday because of the weather and burning is expected to be toward the south and west.
Firefighters will continue to focus their attention on the final stages of mop up of the 41 Fire and gaining ground on the Up Top Fire as it continues to back west toward private lands.The Gird Point Lookout has been fully wrapped to protect the structure from potential fire in the area.
Skalkaho Highway remains closed from mile post 14 to mile post 30 remains while Railroad Creek Road (Forest Road No. 711), is closed in its entirety from Skalkaho Rye Road #75 to Skalkaho Highway. Skalkaho Rye Road is also closed in its entirety.
09/08/2011 06:18 PM by Irina Cates (KPAX News)
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex Fire burning in the Bitterroot National Forest grew to more than 6,000 acres.
The smoke will continue to linger in the Bitterroot Valley because of the temperature inversions and while the inversions may not be helping the air quality, but they are keeping the fire from growing much faster.
"So as long as that inversion stays here, this fire will just keep slowly chugging along in the steep country that it's growing in. But it won't get up and start moving and crossing great distances," Northern Rockies Incident Management Team Public Information Officer Mike Cole said.
It's also keeping fire crews safe is the biggest challenge on this blaze.
"The really steep, rugged terrain we're in, rolling rocks, logs that are on fire rolling down hill, place that we can't really put people," Cole said. "A lot of snags from dead and dying timber, but also snags from fire that burned in 2000 and 2009. This fire is burning back through those areas and just snags constantly coming down."
Resources are limited for crews fighting the 41 Complex fire because of the wildfires burning in other parts of the country.
Fire crews hope to bring in a helicopter for at least one cycle to drop water on the area of the blaze that could move toward private properties.
"This fire is going to be here for a long time, just because of the country that it's in. And the weather forecast is what's going to drive what happens on this fire," Cole concluded.
09/08/2011 12:06 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fires continue to pout smoke across Western Montana, severely affecting air quality in the Bitterroot Valley.
Low humidity and above average temperatures are likely to remain for the next several days and inversions may continue to trap smoke in the valley.
Ravalli County officials are looking to get the word out on the Ravalli County Air Quality Hotline that provides updates on the air quality recorded in downtown Hamilton.
The number to call is (406) 375.6577 and the hotline rates THE air by six health-effect categories and ALSO offers cautionary statements when needed according to Ravalli County health officials.
Real time air quality data for the area can be viewed by clicking here.
(The above photo was taken by the First Security Bank Eyecam in Hamilton late Thursday morning)
09/08/2011 10:45 AM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fires burning in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton continue to grow and are still sending smoke across Western Montana.
Fire officials say the three blazes have now burned a combined 6.027 acres and 260 people are fighting the fires with additional personnel being requested.
A Northern Rockies Incident Command team is taking over of the fire complex this morning which is comprised of the 4,600 acre Up Top fire, the 1,100 acre Coyote Meadows fire and the 155 acre Fox Peak fire.
Fire managers say that with the weather expected to remain hot and dry, creating conditions for fire growth. Smoke in the Bitterroot Valley is also expected to continue into the foreseeable future and dry thunderstorms with gusty, erratic winds are also forecast for Thursday.
The most active of the four fires in the complex is the Up Top Fire which was spotting as much as a mile ahead of the main fire on Wednesday and crews will focus on that fire will be to attempt to push it towards the north and east over the next several days and away from private lands according to the Bitterroot National Forest's Tod McKay.
Most of the fire activity that is visible in the valley is from a backing fire moving towards Gird Point Lookout and preparations are getting started to wrap the lookout.
The Fox Fire has remained relatively inactive over the past few days but has the potential for movement with the forecast weather conditions and firefighter safety remains a major concern due to steep, rugged terrain and large of areas of snags from previous fires.
Fire Behavior Specialist Tony Harwood noted that "There is constant noise on the fire perimeters with snags coming down".
Skalkaho Pass remains closed from mile post 14 to mile post 30 due to the fire. Gird Road #714 and Skalkaho Rye Road #75 are also closed to provide for public and firefighter safety.
(photo courtesy inciweb.org)
09/06/2011 10:31 PM by Breanna Roy (KPAX News)
HAMILTON - The air quality in Hamilton went from bad to worse as the 41 Complex fires grew another 800 acres, fueling the total to 2,800 acres and burning everything in its path: including Skalkaho Highway.
The Montana Department of Transportation closed a 16-mile stretch of Skalkaho Road from Black Bear Campground to just west of Gem Mountain now that the fire crossed the highway.
"It's a really good thing that it's closed because there are huge, firewood-size pieces of burning debris that're actually falling onto the road," Bitterroot National Forest Public Affairs Officer Tod McKay. "There's boulders this size of refrigerators that're coming off of the road in some cases, burning and crossing the road at huge rates of speed."
McKay said some portions of the road are even too dangerous for the highest trained firefighters.
"We have a Type One Hotshot crew that's up there and, in some cases, it's not even safe for them to be in there and those are some of the most experienced folks that we have."
The closure is forcing highway commuters to go around. For independent contractor Brent Betz, that doubles his mileage and travel time.
"I drive over the pass every day back and forth from here to Anaconda, Georgetown Lake area to work and now I can't do that," Betz said. "I have to drive around."
The detour turned his 90 minute commute into a three-hour drive.
Private property and homes are still 10 miles from flames, but residents have their sprinklers going almost non-stop.
More fire crews will arrive Wednesday. High temperatures and low humidity are in the forecast for the next several days, meaning the fire will stay active in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton. That means the smoke will, too.
"Unfortunately the smoke's gonna last as long as the fire lasts," McKay said.
09/06/2011 11:18 AM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- Hot, dry and windy conditions on Monday helped to push the 41 Complex fires burning in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton to over 2,800 acres burned.
Fire officials report that the blazes grew by 800 acres on Labor Day and more burning is expected on Tuesday since a Red Flag Warning has been issued for the area.
Extreme fire conditions, including heavy smoke and burning and rolling debris falling onto the road, forced officials to close the Skalkaho Highway. The road is shutdown from just past Black Bear Campground and continues over the pass, just west of Gem Mountain.
Fire managers say that fire spotted over the highway numerous times on Monday and is now burning on both sides of the road.
Smoke from the 41 Complex fires is once again visible from downtown Hamilton as well as across the Bitterroot Valley.
The lightning-caused fires began on August 28th and burning approximately 10 miles east of Hamilton and several miles north of the Gird Point Lookout. The fires continue to move to the south and east, away from Hamilton and private property.
They are also burning in the direction of several old fires including the Gird End fire. There are no structures threatened at this time.
The 41 Complex fire is made up of the 2,744 acre Up Top fire and the 105 acre 41 fire. There are currently five engines and a pair of helicopters assigned to the blazes as well as approximately 80 firefighters, including three Hotshot crews.
Gird Road #714 remains closed to provide for public and firefighter safety and officials have requested a Type I Incident Management Team to take over managing the fires.
Officials have set up a fire information trailer with the latest maps and area closures at Canyon View Church, 195 Skalkaho Highway. Officials with the Bitterroot National Forest will be on-hand from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday to answer questions and share information with the public.
There are two additional fires burning further southeast on the Darby Ranger District. The Fox Peak fire is currently estimated at 238 acres and the Coyote Meadows fire is 300+ acres in size. Both are burning in the Sapphire Mountains south of Signal Rock approximately 25 miles northeast of Darby.
(photo courtesy inicweb.org)
09/05/2011 12:23 PM by Alex Schwier (KPAX News)
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fire in the Sapphire Mountains doubled in size Sunday night. The fire, east of Hamilton is now over 2,000 acres.
Two of the fires within the complex burned together Sunday. The fire is 1/4 mile from the Skalkaho Highway and the fire spotted over the highway in at least one area Sunday night.
Officials are advising the public to select alternative routes if possible.
Visibility on the road is limited due to heavy smoke.
Officials are also concerned about debris from the fire crossing the road. An engine and crew are currently on 24 hour patrol watching for additional spotting on the highway.
09/04/2011 03:27 PM by Alex Schwier (KPAX News)
HAMILTON Low humidity and temperatures in the 90's are likely leading to more active fires this week with the Complex 41 fire in the Sapphire Mountains having already grown to 1,057 acres.
The Up Top fire is the largest of the three fires in the Complex 41 fire and it's burned within about a ½ mile of the Skalkaho Highway.
Fire managers say if the blaze keeps growing at its current trend then they may have to temporarily close part of the highway.
The Up Top fire is currently 930 acres and is likely the cause of the added smoke that's been seen in the Bitterroot Valley over the weekend.
09/04/2011 12:56 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex Fire burning on the Darby Ranger District has grown to 1,057 acres and smoke is very visible in Hamilton and other locations to the east.
The fire has now burned within a ½ mile of Skalkaho Highway and fire managers are watching the fire's movement closely and may have to close the highway temporarily if the fire continues to move east.
The Saddle Complex fires, burning on the Salmon-Challis and Bitterroot National Forests in Lemhi County, Idaho, and Ravalli County, are up to 26,915 acres.
The fire burning in Montana was not real active Saturday; crews continued to secure the perimeter by strengthening some holding lines. Helicopter water drops were used to slow some "fingers" of fire that were burning faster down the hill than other areas.
The fire however did not move beyond the control boundaries. The weather is predicted to be drier and warmer Sunday, which may cause some previously undetected hot spots to show up.
Firefighters will be monitoring the perimeter and putting out burning that could put protection areas at risk. Winds are expected to be light which will cause smoke to hang in the valley through most of the Sunday.
The Fire Team invites the public to the Incident Command Post/Fire Camp Sunday at 2 p.m. Follow the West Fork Road to milepost 26 which is south of Painted Rocks reservoir. Turn onto Coal Creek Road at the sign "Incident Base". Camp is a short distance from the West Fork Road.
09/02/2011 01:31 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fires burning east of Hamilton is at nearly 1,100 acres with about 100 personnel still assigned to battle the three fires.
The lightning-sparked blazes were first spotted on August 28th and continues burning in heavy timber in the Sapphire Mountains. Crews are working to keep the fire moving east, away from town and private property.
Meanwhile the over 230 acre Fox Peak Fire was first detected on August 12th and is burning south of Signal Rock, approximately 25 miles northeast of Darby. Managers say the fire is currently being managed for resource benefits.
There are several area trails closed in the Bitterroot National Forest near the fires.
(photo courtesy inciweb.org)
08/31/2011 09:08 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- There are 100 personnel attacking the 41 Complex fires that are burning 800 acres in the Sapphire Mountains about 10 miles from Hamilton.
The blaze is continuing to send smoke billowing across the Bitterroot Valley and can easily be seen from downtown Hamilton.
But fire officials report that Wednesday's cooler temperatures and rain helped slow the fire and allowed crews to continue to build handlines.
Fire managers were able to get a good look at the 41 Complex from the on Wednesday morning, which caused them to peg the size at approximately 800 acres. The largest of the three fires is the Up Top Fire at approximately 700 acres.
Crews plan to continue efforts to keep the fire moving to the east with firefighters on the ground being aided by five engines and two helicopters. A Type III Incident Management Team from the Bitterroot National Forest along with the Hamilton Fire Department are managing the fires.
The blazes were sparked by lightning late Sunday night and fire managers say the flames are burning in an area with lots of snags, making it difficult on fire crews.
08/30/2011 08:09 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- A trio of fires burning in the Sapphire Mountains east of Hamilton kicked to life Tuesday afternoon and spewed out a large column of smoke that was visible across the Bitterroot Valley.
The 41 Complex, as the three fires are known, is burning on the Darby Ranger District. All of the fires began on Sunday night and all were lightning-caused and are burning approximately 10 miles east of Hamilton.
The largest fire is about 70 acres in size according to the Bitterroot National Forst's Tod McKay. He added in a press release that the other two blazes are approximately 50 acres each.
Strong afternoon winds associated with a Red Flag warning led to very active fire behavior on all three fires that are continuing to move to the east, away from Hamilton and private property.
McKay says three additional crews, including a Type I Hotshot crew arrived Tuesday and have been busy constructing fireline. They have been assisted by five engines and two helicopters dropping water on hot spots. There are no structures threatened at this time.
All told, about 170 acres are burning as part of the 41 Complex Fire and about 80 firefighters are assigned to the blazes. A type III Incident Management Team from the Bitterroot National Forest and Hamilton Fire Department is managing the fire and a fire camp is being set up.
McKay added that a new lightning-caused fire was discovered Tuesday afternoon as well. It is also burning on the Darby Ranger District approximately three miles up Rye Creek Road. There are currently 20 firefighters, one engine, and two helicopters assigned to the five acre blaze. A single engine air tanker has also made several retardant drops to slow the fire's spread.
08/30/2011 02:16 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- The 41 Complex fires burning in the Sapphire Mountains west of Hamilton continue to grow and pour smoke into the area.
A total of 100 acres have burned in the four fires of the complex that were first spotted on Sunday after being sparked by lightning.
The fires are burning in heavy timber and crews are working to keep the fire moving east, away from town and private property. The blaze is burning in an area with lots of snags making it difficult on fire crews according to fire officials.
Crews are working to keep the largest fire, that's burned 50 acres, moving to the east. There are 20 firefighters from the Bitterroot National Forest along with five engines and two helicopters fighting the fires.
Fire officials report that three more crews, an additional 60 firefighters, have been ordered and will arrive sometime Wednesday.
08/29/2011 12:22 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
HAMILTON- Fire officials report that the thunderstorms that brought rain and wind to the Bitterroot Valley Sunday night sparked nine new wildfires on the Bitterroot National Forest.
Four fires are burning east of Hamilton in the Sapphire Mountains on the Darby Ranger District with smoke visible from downtown Hamilton according to the Bitterroot National Forest's Tod McKay.
Five smaller fires are burning on the West Fork Ranger District in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness. The fires are each approximately .10 acre and are currently being managed for resource benefits associated with fire.
McKay reports that the blazes on the Darby Ranger District are all burning approximately 10 miles east of Hamilton and several miles northwest of the Gird Point Lookout.
The largest fire is approximately 50 acres and five engines and 20 firefighters have been dispatched, while several more crews, including a Type I ‘hotshot' crew have been ordered and will soon be in-route to the fires. There are no structures or property threatened at this time.
The following resources have been dispatched to the fires:
There will likely be several road and trail closures associated with these fires including Gird Road #714 off Skalkaho Highway. Fire managers will manage the three largest fires as one complex called the Forty One Complex with their first priority being to keep the fires from moving west on to private land according to McKay.