Valley Journal
Valley Journal

Wildfire ravages 9,000-plus acres in West Garcon area

With the West Garcon Fire now at 9,110 acres and 45 percent contained, crews continue to fight heavy fuels, mostly timber, and steep terrain to control the blaze. As of press time, the fire had moved north of Windy Gap and a few miles south and was burning in a big timbered basin, according to public information officer Jennifer Costich. With rough ground, heavy forest fuels and isolated tree torching, the terrain is impeding firefighters, although they are trying to save as much of the valuable timber as possible.

On Monday, another crew joined the 271 personnel already on the fire. 

Helicopters continued to dump fire retardant and water on the flames. Also on Monday, a CL 215 scooper plane was added to the firefighting arsenal. It’s a specially-designed tanker plane able to land on Flathead Lake, fill its 1,600-gallon tanks and take off again. The plane needed only five to seven minutes for a round trip to the fire from Big Arm Bay where it was filling.

The fire was reported around 5:45 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13, in the Garcon — also known as Garceau — area 20 miles northwest of Ronan. By 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, the blaze had whipped through more than 1,300 acres, and winds of up to 30 miles per hour Tuesday night only fanned the flames. Early morning rain on Wednesday brought slight relief for firefighters, but by that point, the fire had grown to nearly 5,000 acres, threatening homes and livestock and prompting evacuations of 15 area residents. 

“Yes, this is the worst fire I have ever seen in this area,” said 89-year-old Orville Bjorge, a lifelong resident of the Garcon Gulch side of the mountain.

Although he didn’t have to evacuate, Bjorge said some of his grass burned, but his fences seemed alright. He doesn’t have any cattle, but a neighbor who leases grass moved the cows out because of the fire and lack of water.

“It’d been really dry,” Bjorge said. “There’s a lot of smoke. The fire came real close to some of the neighbors over (on the Irvine Flats side).”

Irvine Loop Road rancher Ronnie Swope and his family were evacuated Aug. 14 but came back that evening when the fire died down.

“We lost a lot of grass, a haystack and a lot of fence,” Swope said. 

Swope’s daughter Katy said the irrigated fields didn’t burn. Looking on the bright side, she explained that burning the grass would put nitrogen back into the soil.

Crews were able to protect all structures except a couple of outbuildings, according to Curtiss Matt, information officer for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire.

Investigators haven’t named an official cause for the fire, which began on private land but quickly spread to tribal land. CKST Division of Fire, Polson Rural Fire Department, Hot Springs Fire Department and CSKT Forest Development were the first responders, and Ronan and Finley Point Fire Departments were called in the second day. The North Idaho Fire Team assumed command of the fire Aug. 15, and fire headquarters remain at the Polson Fairgrounds.

 

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