Large backburn operation underway at Rice Ridge Fire - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana


Large backburn operation underway at Rice Ridge Fire

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OVANDO--Crews began a third and final round of aerial ignition operations Tuesday afternoon to continue bringing the southern edge of the Rice Ridge Fire northwest of Ovando to an area where it could safely be controlled, said Mike Cole, Rice Ridge Fire information officer. 

He said Tuesday's aerial ignitions should bring the fire down to where the sheltered fuel break is established at Forest Service road 477. 

Favorable weather conditions Monday and Tuesday allowed crews to successfully work toward completing the back burning operation. 

"This is a large operation, that it takes three days to complete, with the acreage involved," Cole said.

People driving along Highway 200 north of Ovando might see a lot of smoke from the new ignitions, and a helicopter working to keep down any spots that get too hot, he said. 

Between 4,500 and 6,000 acres are expected to be burned with a low-intensity blaze. 

He said that they hope this operation will be 'buttoned up' tomorrow morning, meaning the entire area will blackened by the low-intensity burn, and the aerial and hand firing operations will have met near the sheltered fuel break. 

Fire management officials at the over 135,000-acre Rice Ridge Fire are working on a huge back burning operation on the south side of the fire, northwest of Ovando, according to Rice Ridge information officer Mike Cole.

Crews began aerial burning operations on Sunday to create a low intensity burn that will cover thousands of acres.

They hope to limit the likelihood that this blaze will make a damaging run south, Cole said.

When the Rice Ridge fire blew up and consumed nearly 50,000 acres just over a week ago, the blaze approached structures in that area -- including homes -- something fire managers want to prevent from happening again.

Between 4,500 and 6,000 acres span between the west to east perimeters, from Black Canyon Creek to Cave Creek, said Phil Oosahwe, Rice Ridge Fire division November supervisor.

The back burning begins at the fire line, and will slowly crawl south, until it approaches U.S. Forest Service road 477, Oosahwe said.

Cole said that this area is mostly National Forest land, except for 30 acres of Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range to the west.

“We would like to start up here if we can and gradually bring this fire down and get a low intensity burn, so we’re not trying to kill the forest and get a high mortality rate,” Cole said

These low-intensity, ground level burns prevent the fire from destroying the forest by burning to hot and reaching into the tops of the trees.

On Sunday, fire managers used aerial burning to fire three ridges that run north to south, and are in the process of slowly backing the fire down the east and west sides of those mountains.

These ridges run along Shoup Creek, east of Dry Cottonwood Creek. And east of Black Canyon Creek.

“And then when it get closer to the road, we will start doing what we call hand firing, and take crews and they will light this by hand, along the road progressing to the east,” Oosahwe said.

They plan to bring the fire close enough to USFS road 477 to begin hand firing operations sometime Tuesday, Cole said.

Crews spent the end of last week building a sheltered fuel break that reaches 100 feet north of the 477 road. They want this six mile line to stop the Rice Ridge fire before it can spread into the grassy fields north of highway 200.

Oosahwe said that bringing the fire to them and meeting it on their terms, minimizes risk to the firefighters on the front line.

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