Rain, snow help con­tain Mon­tana fires

Crews scram­ble to keep warm in colder weather

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NEVADA & THE WEST - By Amy Beth Han­son

HE­LENA, Mont. — Rain snow and cold have re­placed heat and smoke after about two dry months on Mon­tana’s fire lines, leav­ing crews scram­bling for ex­tra sleep­ing bags, heaters, coats and long un­der­wear.

While the change in weather is wel­come, it brings its own chal­lenges for crews fight­ing dozens of fires in drought-stricken Mon­tana.

“The main goal to­day was to go out and start pulling hose and pumps and things we ab­so­lutely didn’t need on the line be­cause it’s go­ing to be be­low freez­ing tonight,” said Mike Cole, a spokesman on a fire near See­ley Lake that has burned 243 square miles. The blaze led to evac­u­a­tion or­ders, a de­lay to the start of the school year and choked the val­ley with haz­ardous air qual­ity for weeks.

An­other shot of cooler weather fore­cast to move in Mon­day could fur­ther help but­ton things up, Cole said Fri­day, but fire sea­son isn’t over.

“When it warms up here, and it usu­ally does a cou­ple weeks in Oc­to­ber, peo­ple will prob­a­bly still see smoke pop up in there,” Cole said.

For now, crews are tak­ing ad­van­tage of cooler tem­per­a­tures and higher hu­mid­ity to mop up the perime­ter, which in­volves crews putting out ev­ery heat source within 100 feet of the fire line.

In Glacier Na­tional Park, an evac­u­a­tion warn­ing is­sued for the Ap­gar and West Glacier ar­eas on Wed­nes­day was fol­lowed Fri­day with the clo­sure of a section of Go­ing-to-theSun Road be­cause of heavy snow­fall.

Snow did not fall on the 25 square mile fire that de­stroyed Sperry Chalet on Aug. 31 and has threat­ened Lake McDon­ald Lodge, but an­other storm fore­cast for Mon­day should help, she said.

Across the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide, at a fire near Lin­coln, snow be­gan fall­ing at around 3 a.m. Fri­day and about 2 inches of pre­cip­i­ta­tion was fore­cast to fall on the fire, said Con­nie Wet­zel, fire spokes­woman.

“We’ve had pretty much a 180 in fire be­hav­ior,” Wet­zel said.

With the change came an about­face in fire­fighter gear and sleep­ing con­di­tions.

There’s a sup­ply unit with ex­tra sleep­ing bags, sup­port staff brought in heaters and they had to make a gravel road to the fire camp, be­cause the heavy equip­ment was sink­ing into the mud, she said.

Fire­fight­ers on the large fire near See­ley Lake gath­ered around a propane heater in camp and donned heavy coats Fri­day morn­ing. A skiff of snow fell on some of al­ready-burned ar­eas. One part of the fire got a quar­ter inch of rain.

“Ev­ery­body’s wear­ing long un­der­wear up here to­day,” Cole said. A few days be­fore the weather was fore­cast to change, some fire­fight­ers who weren’t pre­pared for the in­com­ing cold had to go on­line and or­der coats.

“Those of us that have done this for a long time, we bring coats and long un­der­wear with us,” Cole said.

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