Hundreds of firefighters
called in to contain over
80 small fires in the area

July 13, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

Hundreds of firefighters pitch tents on the Game Range at the Boyd Ranch headquarters. Hundreds more were bivouaced at the Monture Ranger Station, as shown in the front page cover photo. At the time of this photo, most personnel were out in the woods on fires, some dodging grizzly bears in the process. G. Noland photos


Seeley Lake firefighters fill a truck from a portable water tank at the home of Elinor and Charlie Williamson Monday when a man-caused fire started up a thousand feet away from the home. A car backs away from a road blocked by fallen trees. Scores of trees in Seeley Lake were uprooted or blown over in a brief wind and electrical storm last Thursday afternoon.

by Patricia Swan Smith
for the Pathfinder

The fire on Monday near Cedar Lane in Seeley is one of 80 plus fires reported since last Thursday, July 13th. Monday's fire was one of four human-caused fires and is still under investigation. The remaining fires were caused by the lighting from the storm that hit last Thursday evening.

That thunderstorm hit the area with 235 lightning strikes. Because of the number of fires and the remoteness of many of them, Type II Incident Management Teams were delegated authority over the fires.

Many of the fires were reported immediately, which allowed fire crews and an air support to attack many of these fires while they were only small spots.

A lot of the fires were "holdover" fires, which means they actually started with Thursday's lightening strikes and crept around for a day or longer until they found enough fuel to kick up a smoke. In the hold-over fires, they can be between one to three acres before they're even reported.

At the public meeting held at the Community Hall Tuesday evening, fire officials told citizens about current fires and what to expect during the remaining summer months.

The Seeley, Clearwater, Salmon, Placid and Ovando areas have been divided into two complexes: The Seeley Complex, which is staged at Monture Creek, and the Clearwater Complex, which is staged at the Boyd Ranch. Over six hundred people are involved with the fires in the area. This includes overhead and crews from Montana and numerous other states.

Most of the fires have been contained, which means there is a fire line around the fire but it is not controlled. Approximately forty fires still require some attention at this time.

Information officer Pat McKelvey has two active fires in the Seeley Complex. Both are in the Lodgepole Creek area east of Morrell and north of Monture.

Information officer Ted Pettis has two active fires in the Clearwater Complex. One is in the east fork of Chamberlain Creek and the other is at Lost Horse.

The fires range from a tenth of an acre to 90 acres. An acre is approximately the size of a football field.

Fire personnel have seen three grizzly bears during the rash of fires. One fire behavior analyst climbed a tree to avoid a conflict with one of the grizzlies.

Fire conditions at this time are about the same as we usually have in mid August.

Level II Fire Restrictions will go into effect Thursday at 12 a.m. due to the high fire danger.

Those restrictions are as follows:

1: No campfires are allowed unless they are in designated recreation sites or campgrounds. Designated sites include Forest Service and State campgrounds. Camping spots in areas such as Cottonwood Lakes, Blind Canyon, Woodworth Road and other off-road sites are considered "social" campgrounds and campfires are not allowed in those camping areas.

Campfires along the beach of the lakes or at homes on the lake are prohibited while Level II is in effect. Residents are encouraged to call 911 and report any illegal campfires or use of fireworks.

2: Smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building, at an improved piece of habitation, at a developed designated recreation site or campground or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is cleared of all flammable material is prohibited. Everyone is urged to use their ashtrays and not discard cigarettes outside.


3: All felling, bucking, skidding, wood cutting, welding, blasting road building and other high fire risk operations must be terminated by 1 p.m. local time.

4: Stop all burning and extinguish all debris burning fires.

5: A patrol is required for a period of two hours after felling, bucking, skidding, wood cutting, welding, blasting road building and other high fire risk operations and for one hour after the work shift. The patrol is responsible for checking for compliance with required fire precautions as well as watching for emerging fires.

DNRC's DC Haas, Fire Prevention Specialist, said that campfires are still a leading cause of fires in Montana.

Federal Marshall Ron Ogden warned the residents about campfires started by teens having keggers.

"If you see a bunch of kids driving up the side roads in the night, please call and report it," he said. "These kids don't put the fires out and it would be a shame to lose Seeley over something like that."

All outdoor burning was prohibited since July 3rd, and that ban is still in effect. No outdoor burning will be allowed until after fire season is over. Technically that is September 30th, but that date can be extended due to continued fire danger.

Haas also offered to send out DNRC representatives to help homeowners make their homes and property fire safe. If you are interested in having a home-inspection and suggestions list completed, call him at (406) 542-4251 or e-mail him at ""WBG Officer Dwayne Andrews, an Information Officer for Clearwater DNRC said they would like to thank the USFS, BLM, BIA and all of the local government agencies, volunteer fire departments and the tribal crews for all of their support during these fires.

"All these people have been so much help and great to work with," he said. "We look forward to working together throughout the fire season. We all need to work together at times like these."

Next week, the Pathfinder will run an update on the fire danger and include some tips about how the community can get involved in preparing for fires in our area.

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