Fire Update - October 3, 2011

Release Date: Oct 3, 2011  

Contact(s): Tod McKay 406-363-7122


Hamilton, MT. – The thunderstorms that brought rain to the valley on Saturday night also produced quite a lightning show sparking 4 new fires in the Bitterroot National Forest.  Two of the fires were discovered Saturday night on the West Fork Ranger District and two additional ones were reported yesterday on the Darby Ranger District.  Three of the fires were small, approximately .10 acre each and are contained.  The largest fire is estimated at 4 acres and is currently burning in Robbins Gulch on the Darby District east of Connor.  It’s located on private land in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), in the Forest Service protection area.

Three engines and 20 firefighters are on the scene today working to contain the Robbins Gulch fire. No structures are threatened.  The fire is burning in grass and timber in steep, rugged terrain and crews may again call for helicopter water drops to cool hot spots, like they did yesterday.

41 Complex Fires   

The Up Top fire burned actively over the weekend especially on the north and east perimeters near Saint Clair Creek and Dam Lake and grew by another 500 acres.  The fire is one of three in the 41 Complex in the Sapphire Mountains approximately 8 miles east of Hamilton.  Smoke from the Up Top fire was visible this weekend in the valley.

Fire managers are opening Railroad Creek Road #711 at noon today, due to minimal fire activity in that area.  The closure on Skalkaho Highway will move up also to mile post 17, from mile post 14.  The highway, which the Montana Transportation Department closed back on September 5, remains closed from mile post 17 to mile post 26, until further notice.  Fire and road crews continue to clear hazard trees, burning and rolling debris, and large rocks from the road several times each day – when it is safe for them to do so.

The 5,000 gallon portable water tank set up on Skalkaho Highway as a helicopter water source was removed over the weekend.  Remaining crews are focusing on patrolling and extinguishing hot spots and doing rehabilitation work on constructed fire line.  The weather forecast is calling for a significant cooling trend later this week bringing fall like temperatures and rain showers to our area.  This should greatly minimize activity on all remaining fires.  

The Coyote Meadows and Fox Peak fires remain unstaffed and showed very little heat activity over the weekend.

Resources on Fire:  20 people are assigned to the fire including 2 engines, 1 water tender from the Hamilton Fire Department and 3 excavators.

Current Size:             41 Fire = 105 acres                              (100% contained)

                                    Up Top = 12,380 acres                        (35% contained)

                                    Coyote Meadows = 1,467 acres         (0% contained – unstaffed)

                                    Fox Peak = 289 acres                          (0% contained – unstaffed)

                                    Total: 14,241 acres


Hells Half Acre Complex

Consists of three fires burning in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness on the West Fork Ranger District.  The fires burned actively this weekend and have grown to approximately 2,000 acres.  Last week, crews reported isolated torching and spotting across Forest Road # 224 to the Hells Half Lookout.  Road # 224 remains closed at Vance Creek Saddle for public safety.  Fire managers are monitoring the complex from the air and by Lookouts on the ground.  Crews have wrapped the Hells Half Lookout with fire retardant material to protect it.   

Saddle Complex Fire 

Area closures have been lifted on both the Montana and Idaho side of the 32,636 acre Saddle Complex Fire south of Painted Rocks Reservoir.  However, there are still several roads closed in Idaho including the road to Blue Nose Lookout and road #44 at the junction with road #5669 - Beaver Creek Road.  The Horse Creek Hotsprings Campground is also closed.  For the latest road closure information visit

Although many closures have been lifted, fire managers are advising the public to use caution when returning to these areas.  There are numerous hazards that still pose a risk including falling snags or trees, open flames, rolling rocks and debris, burned out stumps and limited visibility from smoke.  An information board has been set-up at the end of West Fork Road with the latest maps and fire information.

The Bitterroot National Forest Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team has finished its on-site field assessments for the Saddle Fire.  Initial priority recommendations include treatments to protect road systems - Woods and Beaver Creek Roads, reducing sediment to Bull Trout habitat areas, and monitoring and treating for new invasive weed species.                      

For the latest fire information including all area and road closures, maps and photos visit