Five days, 10 fires
Five days. Ten confirmed fires with three still actively burning.
Dozens of calls from every corner of the county about possible flames and smoke columns. And a tremendous amount of work on the behalf of Stillwater County, state and federal fire crews.
That is the snapshot of the last handful of days in Stillwater County.
A strong system pushed across the area Tuesday night, Aug. 1, bringing in much needed cooler temperatures. The system also brought lightning, generating seven fire calls between 8:02 p.m. and 9:52 p.m. from Reed Point to Park City.
Of those calls made to the Stillwater County Sheriff’s dispatch, two turned out to be actual fires sparked by lightning strikes — the No Name Gulch Fire on Joliet Road and a grass fire near I-90 near Reed Point.
The No Name Gulch Fire was reported at 8:27 p.m. and was at 22 acres as of Wednesday morning with fire crews still on scene, said Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger.
The I-90 Reed Point fire was reported at 8:02 p.m. and was extinguished quickly.
Columbus Fire Rescue, Absarokee, Park City, Joliet and Roberts fire crews all responded to the various calls Tuesday night.
MILE MARKER 417 FIRE
Pine Crest Subdivision resident Karen Connor didn’t know about the wildfire racing toward her home on Beartooth Vista Road Sunday afternoon until a neighbor called around 4:50 p.m.
“We had all of our southside binds down due to evening sun. Whoa Nellie!” said Connor Monday. “There were three to four distinct ignition points from I-90 as we ran out to look over the hillside. The fire came right up the hill and coulees.”
The Mile Marker 417 Fire, as it has been named, started on I-90 and ran north into the very dry and difficult terrain of the subdivision Sunday afternoon, July 30. By 6 p.m., an evacuation notice had been sent out by the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office, as homes were threatened. It was initially reported by an off-duty deputy at 4:39 p.m., according to Stillwater County Dispatch records.
The response from fire crews was rapid and strong, including every department in Stillwater County as well as the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), the Bureau of Land (BLM), Laurel as well as Carbon County fire crews, and multiple retardant dropping airplanes and helicopters. Stillwater County road crews also assisted in digging perimeter lines, while sheriff’s deputies, Columbus police, Montana Highway Patrol troopers and the county Disaster and Emergency Services Office conducted everything from traffic control to checking out new reports of fires.
Radio chatter told a story of dispatch advising emergency crews of fire after fire along I-90, as well as a hay bale fire towards Reed Point.
By Tuesday morning, 160 acres had been burned and containment was at 65 percent, said Assistant Columbus Fire Chief Nick Jacobs. As of Tuesday afternoon, 40 fire personal remained on scene, but the evacuation order had been lifted and no homes were under threat, said Jacobs.
It was close, though, with flames getting to within about 50 yards of homes, said Jacobs.
Other fire calls on Sunday included a single hay bale ablaze on Svenson Road at 4:23 p.m., and brush fires along I-90 at mile markers 429, 422 and 411.
FOUR DAYS OF CHAOS
The chaos began on Saturday afternoon, July 30, when Columbus Fire Rescue was dispatched to a wildland fire hear Pronghorn Road, west of the Pine Crest Subdivision, at 3:17 p.m.
Less than 20 minutes after arriving on scene of the Pronghorn Fire, crews were paged to a large grass fire at mile marker 3 on the Joliet Road. Thirteen minutes after the Mile Marker 3 fire call came into dispatch, a third fire was reported — this one at mile marker 6 on the Joliet Road and involving a haystack.
Crews quickly determined there were just two active fires — the Pronghorn Fire and the Joliet Road Mile Marker 3 fire.
The Mile Marker 3 fire was at 10 acres and was extinguished quickly.
The Pronghorn Fire, which was started by lightning, was at 80 acres and crews had it under control on the same day, with help from aircraft retardant. As of Tuesday, the Pronghorn Fire was at 85 acres and was 90 percent contained.
At 5:35 p.m., Columbus Fire Rescue was sent to a reported fire on Countryman Creek Road, but nothing was found, according to dispatch records.
Cowger said Wednesday morning he expects the fires to continue with the quick return of high temperatures. He encourages citizens to be concise and specific as possible when calling in locations of suspected fires in order to help crews work efficiently.
On Sunday, July 31, Columbus hit a high of 95 degrees, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The previous day, the high was 91 degrees. The last time the daily high was below 90 degrees was on July 27, according to the NWS. Highs are expected to be in the 80s through the weekend.