Fire danger soars ahead of incoming cold front

Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, September 5, 2019
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Photo by CFR Assistant Chief Nick Jacobs
            A haystack burned to the ground off Highway 10, west of Columbus last Thursday.

A cool, wet summer has given way to red flag fire weather and a rash of fires.

Smoke from multiple fires in the area last week prompted Stillwater Billings Clinic Community Health to issue a statement geared towards residents with breathing problems.

“Smoke has increased throughout the area due to recent fire activity. Please note, if you have breathing problems and/or difficulties, the smoke activity may increase the symptoms. If possible, stay indoors with the windows closed to help prevent worsening of breathing problems,” read the statement issued Wednesday morning.

That came on the heels of the National Weather Service (NWS) issuing a Red Flag Warning for Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 3 and 4, as hot temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds ahead of a cold front combined to create “erratic fire behavior.”

Thursday’s high is expected to hit 92 degrees, with an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms by Friday night, according to the NWS. Friday’s high will reach 82 degrees. Saturday and Sunday highs are forecast for the upper 70s.

Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger told the Columbus City Council Tuesday night that Tuesday through Thursday were bringing the area the highest fire danger this area has seen all summer.


After an almost fire-free summer, last Wednesday brought a furious rash of fires in a short time period that literally kept multiple fire agencies running from call to call.

It started with a haystack fire at a ranch off Highway 10, west of Columbus. Columbus Fire Rescue (CFR) responded and cleared the scene at 2:07 p.m., according to Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office dispatch records.

•A 11:46 a.m., Molt, Rapelje, CFR, Reed Point and Laurel fire crews were called to what became known as the Mountain View fire in Molt. That fire was eventually turned over to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) and burned 2,800 acres.

•At 2:21 p.m., Columbus and Park City fire crews, along with Stillwater County Road and Bridge, scrambled up Valley Creek Road and were on scene there until approximately 8:46 p.m., according to Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office dispatch records.

•At 3:18 p.m., deputies, CFR and Absarokee fire crews were called to I-90 for a median fire near Columbus.

•At 3:55 p.m., a wheat field fire was reported near Ray Road in Rapelje. Reed Point and Rapelje fire crews, as well as county road and bridge workers, responded.

•At 4:55 p.m., a smoldering pile of debris sent CFR and deputies to a house on the west end of Pike Avenue in Columbus.

Last Thursday, Aug. 29, crews returned to the scene of the haystack fire off Highway 10 at 2:31 p.m. when the hay reignited. Despite attempts to extinguish the flames, crews were unable to stop it and were forced to standby and let it burn.

CFR crews were also still assisting on the Mountain View Fire in Molt.