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Fires burn Flathead Reservation, restrictions kick in

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Sunday, Aug. 17 update

FLATHEAD INDIAN RESERVATION — The lightning-caused Seepay Fire burning on the Flathead Indian Reservation 20 miles west of Dixon is currently at 1,050 acres, with hot spots primarily on the western flank. Humidity and rain throughout the past three days has slowed growth considerably. A helicopter from the incident was loaned to the nearby Thompson River Complex to assist them in firefighting, and firefighters secured a historic cabin just east of the fire area. Main objectives of the Seepay Fire are to protect firefighter and public safety, and additionally to contain the fire within the Seepay-Magpie roadless area. Four fire crews and four helicopters are currently working on the fire.

At today’s 7 a.m. briefing, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Elder Pat Pierre inspired firefighters with a homily delivered in Salish and English. He related his experiences growing up in the Perma area and contrasting the fire behavior of today with the less intense and less destructive fires of his childhood. He thanked the assembled firefighters for all their efforts.

The following roads are closed due to fire activity: Seepay Creek Road from Hwy 200 up is closed. Revais, Magpie, and Vanderberg creek roads are closed from the top over into Seepay. The public can still drive up to top of Revais, Magpie, and Vanderberg. Roads at the top are closed and barricaded. Fire managers realize this may impact local Tribal residents’ huckleberry harvesting but fortunately there is such a bumper crop this year that other areas outside the fire closure are available across the tribal lands.

For the latest fire information/photos http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4077/

 

Updated Friday, Aug. 15

 

The lightning-caused Seepay Fire burning on the Flathead Indian Reservation 20 miles west of Dixon is currently at 1,038 acres, growing only eight acres since yesterday due to a light rain and thunderstorms void of high winds that accelerated the fire on Wednesday.

Today’s weather forecast calls for continued thundershowers throughout the day with a 60 percent chance of wetting rain. Temperatures are unlikely to exceed 70 degrees and relative humidity will be in the high 50-percent range, allowing firefighters to catch spots in problematic areas.

Yet the unpredictability of thunderstorms will continue to keep firefighters aware of dangers from lightning strikes and falling snags. Five crews of 195 personnel are working on the fire along with two helicopters.

 

 

Updated Thursday, Aug. 14

Wednesday afternoon rainstorms caused problems for firefighting efforts meant to suppress the Seepay fire located on the far western part of the Flathead Reservation.

Winds that occurred before the fire caused a walls of flames to race northwestward, a press release said. The fire crossed Road 2080 and approached Road 2000, as it grew 150 acres in size.

Crews were able to disengage the fire safely, but the 47 mph winds at the incident command post near Perma Bridge caused complications. A logistics yurt and numerous personal tents were damaged.

A firefighter was injured from slipping on a rock Tuesday evening, hyperextending a knee. The firefighter is expected to make a full recovery.

As of Thursday morning the fire had grown to 1,031 acres. More than 100 firefighters were working in two crews with two helicopters assisting. 

 

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 13

The Seepay Fire, located about six miles south of Perma, has grown to 880 acres as of Wednesday, and Diane Hutton's Wildland Fire Management Team assumed control of management of the blaze on Tuesday night.

The fire is burning south of Highway 200 and is being managed with a confine and contain strategy due to the difficult terrain and heavy amounts of dead fuels.

Objectives are primarily to protect firefighter and public safety and additionally to contain the fire within the Seepay-Magpie Roadless Area.

The fire grew approximately 200 acres on Tuesday and an infrared flight on Tuesday evening showed continued intense heat on the north, west and east flanks. Crews disengaged the fire for two hours on Tuesday afternoon when erratic winds caused visibility to plummet and created a safety hazard. Fire behavior analyst Risa Lange-Navarro stated the fire is moving mostly by backing down slopes with very few crown runs. Firefighting efforts were concentrated on building contingency lines along the west side of the fire using heavy equipment to connect clear-cuts and open up the 5000 road. Firefighters also worked to keep rolling material from crossing the 2000 road. The ability of the fire to push north or south is limited by old fire scars.  An Incident Command Post was erected along the Flathead River near the Perma Bridge.  

Today’s weather forecast calls for a chance of thundershowers throughout the day. Erratic winds with gusts up to 30 miles per hour may accompany these storms. Temperatures for Tuesday will be in the 80’s in the valleys and 70’s on the ridge tops with humidity in the high twenties to upper thirties. Winds on the ridges will be from the southwest at 3 to 6 mph with gusts up to 15 mph while winds on the slopes will generally push upslope and upvalley at similar speeds. Today’s operations will be concentrated on continuing the construction of contingency lines and effectively distributing in-coming resources to the areas they are needed.

Another fire burning west of the reservation is contributing to the haze in Mission Valley. The Thompson Complex Fire started Friday, Aug. 1 and had grown to 1,300 acres as of Aug. 13.

According to a press release from Lolo National Forest officials, it has been difficult to draw firelines around the blaze because of difficult terrain. More than 447 firefighters and 20 aircraft are fighting the fire. A Type II team has begun management of the fire, which was 25 percent contained as of Aug. 13.

Original story below:

RONAN — Three lightning-caused wildfires are filling Mission Valley skies with smoke, and the Flathead Reservation entered Stage 1 Fire Restrictions at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 7, in hopes of preventing future incidents. 

“We’re in full swing, as you can see with all the smoke in the air,” Division of Tribal Fire Investigator and Information Officer Devlin Lafrombois said Tuesday. 

A lightning storm Aug. 2 spurred reports of 10 wildfires on the reservation. Lafrombois said authorities located five of the fires. Four have been extinguished. Other fires that weren’t found may have burned out, been put out by rain, or have not grown large enough to be noticed. 

One fire ignited from the storm grew to 257 acres in size by Aug 5. The blaze is located in the Lozeau area five to seven miles west of Elmo. As of last week, the fire was contained. 

“It’s not spreading anymore,” Lafrombois said. 

Another fire that has been burning longer is also being monitored by tribal firefighters. The Seepay Fire, located about six miles south of Perma, was discovered July 17 in a roadless area of steep terrain with heavy downed dead material from beetle-killed lodge pole pine and sub-alpine fir timber. 

Warm and dry conditions helped the fire grow from 200 acres to more than 575 acres over the weekend. The Division of Tribal Fire originally let the fire burn because the conditions were too treacherous for firefighters, but as of Monday more than 100 firefighters were working the large blaze. 

A special outside team was expected to take control of the fire on Wednesday morning. 

According to Tribal Division of Forestry worker Tony Harwood, air drops were scheduled to help fight the fire, 

There will be heavy traffic in the area, with parts of Vanderburg Creek Road (D-3000), Magpie Creek Road (D-3000), and Three Lakes Peak Trailhead blocked off. The entirety of Seepay Creek Road (D-1000) is closed to everything except fire traffic. 

“Roads will be closed for an indefinite period of time,” Harwood said.

We’ll be fighting the fire over the next couple of weeks or so.” 

There are no structures close to the Seepay Fire, he added. 

Another fire burning west of the reservation is contributing to the haze in Mission Valley. The Thompson Complex Fire started Friday, Aug. 1 and had grown to 781 acres in size by Aug. 10. 

According to a press release from Lolo National Forest officials, it has been difficult to draw firelines around the blaze because of difficult terrain. More than 280 firefighters and 11 aircraft are fighting the fire. A Type II team has begun management of the fire, which was 25 percent contained as of Aug. 11. 

In the past month Tribal Fire has also dealt with three fires it believes were intentionally set in the Arlee area. The blazes did not threaten structures. 

Volunteer fire departments have also been at the ready, Arlee Volunteer Fire Chief Donnie Henderson said. He had some suggestions for avoiding inadvertent blazes. 

“Be careful when operating a vehicle out in the tall grass,” Henderson said. “Most cars and trucks now days are equipped with a catalytic converter. These converters run between 900 and 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This alone will ignite dry grasses.” 

Henderson also suggested not parking hay equipment inside, under a building, or next to other equipment. A clear gravel spot away from dry grass is the best place to park the equipment, he said. He recommends using compressed air to blow fine chap and hay dust off equipment at the end of the day. 

Be careful with your equipment that you use for haying. 

“This will lessen the likelihood if a fire does occur on the equipment, that it will or could spread to other buildings or equipment,” Henderson said. 

A mower blade striking hidden rock and hot woodcutters are also common causes of fire, Henderson said. 

“When mowing your lawn, try to avoid mowing new areas, before checking them out by walking them,” he said. “ (With) Woodcutters use a sharp chain while cutting. This helps to keep the chip pile temperature down and is a lot easier on the saw. Have somebody act as a fire watch while you are cutting, and after you are done walk the area you just cut in to make sure that nothing is laying there smoldering.” 

Both Henderson and Lafrombois reminded people that if convicted of starting a wildfire, people can receive jail time, be fined, and have to pay the costs of damages of the fire. 

Stage 1 Fire Restrictions prohibit the following: 

·Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire except within a developed recreation site, or improved site.

·Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

Stage 1 exemptions are extended to: 

·Persons with a written permit that specifically authorizes the otherwise prohibited act.

·Persons using a device solely fueled by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels that can be turned on and off.

·Persons conducting activities in those designated areas where the activity is specifically authorized by written posted notice.

·Any federal, state, or local officer or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.

·All land within a city boundary is exempted.

·Other exceptions unique to each agency/tribe. (i.e. cultural fires, tanning fires, sweats, etc.)

Exceptions do not absolve an individual or organization from liability or responsibility for any fire started from exception activity. Lafrombois asked that people who are operating a fire under an exception rule let their local fire department know beforehand. 

If anyone spots a fire, they should immediately call 911, authorities said. 

Additional questions can be directed to the Division of Fire at 675-2700, ext. 6400, or fire@cskt.org. 

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