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Flathead Reservation fires continue to burn

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FLATHEAD RESERVATION — Thousands of acres have burned in the wilderness since July, and the flames continue to smolder.

As of Monday, Aug. 22, two main fires have kept firefighters busy on the reservation. The Crooks fire, near Arlee, is at 3,258 acres and is zero percent contained. The Boulder 2700 fire, east of Polson, is at 2,230 acres and is 50 percent contained. 

The Boulder 2700 fire has increased about 160 acres in the past week with “little to no fire spread,” according to the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team who are coordinating suppression efforts.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire crew discovered the Boulder 2700 fire on the morning of July 31 in the Mission Mountains eight miles east of Polson. The blaze grew quickly in the first week with 14 primary structures and 17 secondary structures lost, according to officials. Lake County Sheriff Don Bell has said the cause of the fire is under investigation. 

Residents were evacuated on July 31 from mile marker six to 13 on the east side of Flathead Lake and Finley Point. Since then, people have been able to return to their homes but must stay ready to evacuate.

On Monday, residents in areas south of mile marker nine, including Finley Point, were on stage one alert, according to officials. Residents in areas from mile marker nine to 11 were on stage two, which calls for people to be ready to evacuate at any time. 

“Highway 35 has reopened with a speed limit of 35 mph from mile markers six to 13 for public and firefighter safety,” officials state. “Expect delays as a pilot car leads traffic from the north and south through mile markers nine to 11.” 

Starting on Monday, the highway was intermittently closed from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at mile marker nine to 11. “This is so arborists can clear hazard trees along highway 35,” officials state. “The delays will last through Friday, Aug. 27.” 

Drivers were asked to be aware of existing hazards in the area, including rolling rocks, debris, smoke, firefighters, vehicles and aircraft. “Do not stop in the fire area due to all these hazards,” officials asked of drivers. 

“Firefighters will continue to grid for hotspots and ensure that hotspots are dead out. Smoldering stump holes will hold heat and there will be isolated creeping fire under dense forest canopies.”  

The lightning-caused Crooks fire was at 20 acres on July 29 and spread throughout the wilderness area 10 air miles east of Arlee. No structures or evacuations are in effect. As of Monday, the St. Mary’s Lake area to the North Fork area is closed. The Main Jocko Road is also closed. 

Rain and cooler temperatures caused minimal fire behavior during the weekend. “Fuels remain very wet from precipitation,” CSKT Division of Fire officials said. “Isolated smoke is possible around the fire area, especially as things begin to dry out. Heavy fuels will likely continue to smolder. Grass fuels on a sunny slope could dry to the point of minimally carrying fire. Little in the way of forward spread is expected. A torching tree might be possible.”

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