Aug 25, 2011 12:29 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
DARBY- The Saddle Creek fire that jumped from Idaho into southern Ravalli County earlier this week has grown slightly, and at last check was burning over 21,150 acres.
Nearly 175 personnel are battling the blaze which blew up by 17,000 cares on Monday and is consuming acres on the Bitterroot National Forest as well as on the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho.
The wildfire has also been pumping smoke into the Bitterroot Valley over the past couple of days, coating the air with a smoke haze and at times sending little bits of ash to the ground as far north as Lolo.
The fires, burning 23 miles northwest of North Fork, Idaho, were caused by lightning in mid-August and flared to life earlier this week, crossing into the Bitterroot National Forest.
A local Type 3 team is managing the blaze in a joint-effort with the Bitterroot National Forest. It is burning in lodgepole pine and sub-alpine fir stands in steep terrain that has not been impacted by fire in over 100 years.
Much of the fire has burned with the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness with about 9,200 acres of the fire on the Idaho side of the state line.
Authorities are working to protect area lookouts, campgrounds, and homes, including Gattin Ranch from the fire while structure protection is in place at homes furthest up the West Fork drainage in the Bitterroot.
Stage 1 evacuations orders are in effect for about 50 homes south of Painted Rocks. Ravalli County Sheriff's Department deputies have notified about 11 property owners they may have to evacuate.
Bitterroot National Forest Public Affairs Officer Tod McKay said the fire has the potential to move down the mountain toward homes and cabins.
Saddle Complex Fire incident commander Cary Taylor told Montana's News Station that there's little to stop the fire.
"There's a heavy fuel loading in there, a lot of dead timber from bug kill and the wind pushes it through there real fast," Taylor said.
A command post is set up about five miles from the fire where crews will sleep in tents. As long as the fire stays active, the crews will be needed.
- information from Breanna Roy included in this report
3 hours ago