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Mountain fire swiftly knocked out

ST. IGNATIUS – A helicopter pilot with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Division of Fire flew toward a smoke plume coming off the mountainside five miles east of town in the tribal wilderness area on Tuesday afternoon. 

The pilot hovered the aircraft over an irrigation ditch a few miles south of the fire on the Biggs Ranch and dipped the bucket attached to the chopper into the water. The pilot flew back to the fire and dropped the water, then repeated the process about a dozen times before the smoke was gone. Six firefighters with the ground grew went into the area and put a control line around the quarter acre fire.

The Division of Fire is calling the incident the Walk In Fire due to the lack of roads into the scene. CSKT Fire Prevention Specialist CT Camel said ground crews hiked several miles to get to the fire. He said the fire was sparked during a lightning storm that happened on Friday, July 27. Lightning struck a tree and flames smoldered during the night until hot, dry conditions with a bit of wind caused the fire to pick up later in the week.

“The fire started with a single tree and worked its way to the ground where there was a lot of downed vegetation,” he said. “The fire danger is very high right now. Fires can easily get started.”

Camel said the fire wasn’t a threat to any structures, but it had the potential to grow quickly. The 2006 Ashley Lake Fire, which occurred near the Walk In Fire, burned more than 100 acres of thick vegetation for about a week and was difficult for firefighters to access.      

Beau Biggs, 16, was standing near the irrigation ditch after changing a few wheel lines and watched the action on Tuesday. He said he got a close up look at the helicopter picking up water. “I was thinking it would be fun to fly the helicopter,” he said. 

Biggs said the small fire looked like it was “growing fast” before the helicopter started dumping water on it. He said the pilot doused the smoke and put the fire out in less than an hour. He continued to watch the next day as another helicopter came back and dropped more water on the area as a precaution. 

The CSKT Division of Fire’s wildland fire officials have moved the Flathead Indian Reservations fire danger to “very high.” A wet spring allowed thick vegetation to grow, and hot summer months dried out the terrain, creating plenty of fuel for fires that will spread quickly.     

“Last week, unattended campfires, illegal debris burning, operating internal combustion engines around cured grasses, and tow chains dragging on highway surfaces have ignited wildfires,” the Division of Fire notes. 

“Residents need to know that wildland firefighters face a long, arduous fire season even without having to respond to human-caused fires. Everyone needs to take special care when engaged in activities that could spark a wildfire.” 

Several procedures can help prevent most human-caused fires that include keeping campfires small and never leaving them unattended. “Drown, mix, and stir in water until the campfire is cold to the touch before leaving your campsite.” 

People should keep in mind that outdoor debris burning by permit has been closed for the season. Running internal combustion engines in areas of tall, cured grass could start a wildfire. “Be vigilant during these operations, and avoid doing such things on windy days or in the heat of the day. Have a water supply or fire extinguisher, leather gloves, and a hand tool at the ready.”

The Division of Fire asks that people make sure trailers are well maintained and that they are not dragging safety chains. They also encourage people to visit for the most up-to-date information regarding restrictions and burn bans. Local fire information is also available on their Facebook page.

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