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Man-made fire burns 43 acres near Buffalo Bridge

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Authorities suspect an unattended camp fire to be the cause of a fire that burned 43 acres near Buffalo Bridge on Thursday evening.

“My suspicion was that it was started within a fire ring and was an unattended campfire,” said Curtiss Matt, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Division of Fire Prevention Specialist.

He noted that the investigation was ongoing and that citations may be issued.

Besides the wind, high temperatures and a relatively dry August added to the combustibility of the rural area northwest of Pablo.

“It’s the middle of August to begin with and the temperatures have come up considerably,” Matt said. “A lot of the grass and fuels are starting to core out because of the temperature.”

The Ronan Volunteer Fire Department, the Polson Rural Fire Department and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Division of Fire responded to the fire call a little after 5 p.m.

The fire jumped across the river four or five times and required the assistance of a single-engine air tanker, dropping blue fire retardant Thermo-Gel. 

“The Thermo-Gel slows down the fire and holds the fire really well,” Ronan Volunteer Fire Chief Mark Clary said.

A helicopter arrived later after assisting fire crews in Seeley. It picked up buckets of river water to dump on the fire.

Meanwhile, 52 firefighters worked on the ground, digging fire lines around the burning areas.

Clary explained how the firefighters used hand tools to dig a line around the fire and to remove the burning materials in order to stop the fire’s advancement.

Most fire crews left the scene around 10:30 p.m. when the fire was controlled around the edges, but the CSKT Division of Fire kept a few firefighters and fire equipment on site throughout the night, Clary said. 

Two crews from the CSKT Division of Fire continued to mop up the remnants of the fire through the weekend and into Monday. Matt explained that after the mop-up stage is over, the division of fire would turn it over to patrol status.

“Everyone thinks that fire season is over, but that’s not the case,” Matt said. 

He explained that although there are no restrictions on campfires right now, people who build them should take extra care to extinguish them completely. Use plenty of water and then check to be sure fire remnants are no longer hot. 

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