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Thorne Creek firefighters battling steep terrain, hot conditions but optimistic

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Posted at 10:00 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 11:05:38-04

THOMPSON FALLS  — Some people are still under evacuation orders because of the huge Thorne Creek Fire west of Thompson Falls, which has now consumed just under 12,000 acres.

However, firefighters believe they're making good headway with protection measures.

It's been a scary couple of days on the Lower Clark Fork, as the Thorne Creek Fire continues active burning, engulfing the steep ridge north of the river and coming close to homes along Blue Slide Road.

But firefighters are using planned ignitions to deprive the fire of fuel.

"We're doing some strategic firing operations in this area in order to prevent those spots that have been coming from the main wildfire from traveling too far," explained West Lolo Complex Public Information Officer Schelly Olson. "So that's been our strategy here. We've done a great job of securing some line over on the Division Zulu on the west side."

Graves Creek Road remained closed Thursday, with some evacuation orders still in place. But there's more help on the way.

"Things are really looking good. We got some extra crews in here. Our first order filled since we got here on the 23rd so we're optimistic," Olson told MTN News.

A big relief has been the additional air support, with helicopters doing water drops and Neptune Aviation jets dropping retardant.

A big change from earlier this month when passing lightning set off multiple fires grouped as the West Lolo Complex. Olson says air resources were hard to come by after the July 7 lightning storm raked the Lower Clark Fork.

"They really had to prioritize based on imminent threat to life and property, and so a lot of resources went to different fires. And so now the Thorne Creek Fire is the remaining fire in the West Lolo complex."

In the afternoon, hot, dry winds have been stoking the west-facing ridges, forming a pyrocumulus cloud and columns of smoke visible from town. As with the nearby 2016 Copper King Fire, and the Deep Creek Fire in 2017, this is extremely rugged, hazardous terrain.

"Absolutely, when you're looking at steep, rugged terrain that you can't put firefighters in or equipment in, that's really the tactic you need to take," Olson says. "It's that indirect. And so that's what we've been working on."

One advantage right now is the Type 3 team working on this fire is from Plains and Thompson Falls, so they know the weather and the terrain.

"And I know it's scary for people when we talk about firing operations and aerial ignitions but they need to really, you know, trust in your team," Olson urges. "They know this country. They live here. You have a lot of local folks. They really know what they're doing. They are they're taking care of this area, 'cause they are invested in it."

There's a community meeting for the Thorne Creek Fire, Friday evening at 6 p.m. at Ainsworth Park in Thompson Falls.