Big Sky Roundup

Gov’s fire briefing: 50 residences have burned this year, top-priority fire is Thorne Creek

By: - August 18, 2021 4:05 pm

The Boulder 2700 fire burned residences near Flathead Lake. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan.)

Montana may be in for a cold, rainy spell, and most of the state might have breathable air for the first time in what feels like forever, but wildfire season is still in full swing.

There are 25 active large fires in the state, which has seen 792,000 acres burn so far since January, Gov. Greg Gianforte heard in a briefing with fire officials Tuesday, according to a readout from his office. Almost 100 new fires have started since the governor’s previous briefing last Tuesday. Around $40 million has been spent out of the state’s fire suppression fund. Montana entered the fiscal year with $105 million in the fund.

Approximately 50 residences have been lost to the fire this year, according to the briefing. Particularly destructive fires include the Boulder 2700 fire on Flathead Lake, which has burned 2,230 acres and 31 structures, and the Robertson Draw fire near Red Lodge, which has burned 29,885 acres and 30 structures.

The state’s largest fire, the sprawling, 170,848-acre Richard Spring blaze burning on the Northern Cheyenne reservation near Ashland, has destroyed 12 secondary structures, and continues to threaten 1,700 structures, though it’s now 75 percent contained. Gianforte traveled to Colstrip and Lame Deer on Tuesday to meet with fire officials and tour an aid center set up by the local Boys and Girls Club. Officials told Gianforte they were having a difficult time finding hotshot crews, according to Lee Newspapers, a common theme across firefighting efforts this year as the industry faces low pay and high attrition rates.

Montana’s highest priority fire, according to the readout, is the West Lolo Complex. Fires have been burning in the Lolo National Forest since thunderstorms in early July, and the complex has grown to 38,688 acres. The most immediately threatening fire in the system is the Thorne Creek fire near Thompson Falls. It showed extreme behavior on Monday, making a 4-mile run, according to reports from the Northern Rockies Coordination Center. Forty-two structures are threatened.

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.