Fire danger in Montana is ramping up with hot and windy days forecast through the week.

Though the summer has been largely smoke-free so far, a few fires in the state have garnered attention in the past couple of weeks, and smoke from the Moose Fire about 20 miles north of Salmon, Idaho, is tinting skies around Bozeman and Ennis.

The Moose Fire has covered 3,600 acres as of Tuesday, and the cause is undetermined. It’s burning on both sides of Salmon River Road, and crews are working to reduce the impact to recreationalists, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Inciweb page. The area is a popular launch point for boaters on the main stretch of the Salmon River and take-out spot for boaters on the Salmon’s Middle Fork, according to Amy Baumer, public affairs officer with the Salmon-Challis National Forest, which currently reports “very high” fire danger. Fires start easily and can spread quickly when conditions reach very high.

The Hog Trough Fire east of Hamilton is adding to the smoke in southwest Montana. At about 50 acres as of Tuesday morning, the lightning-sparked fire is burning in a scar from fires in the 2000s. According to the Bitterroot National Forest Facebook page, the fire was unstaffed as of Monday due to the remote and rugged location. The Gird Point Lookout is watching the fire for growth and reports back to fire managers with the Bitterroot and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests.

Fire danger in the Bitterroot National Forest is listed as high. In response to high temperatures and windy conditions, Ravalli County on July 18 declared a burn ban for the remainder of the summer. 

Smoke from the Hog Trough and Moose fires is expected to move east and reduce visibility through the I-90 corridor from Butte to Bozeman.

On July 16, the Moors Mountain Fire in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness outside of Helena burned about 90 acres and shot smoke high onto the valley’s horizon. A lightning storm Thursday night and Friday morning is likely to blame for the ignition, according to Chiara Cipriano, public affairs officer with the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. 

Fire retardant was dropped on the ridgeline and five smokejumpers set up an anchor point to manage the fire. The next day, a 20-person crew hiked to the location and a team traveled from central Montana to assist the local response.

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On July 18, two hand crews and six aircraft worked the fire. Containment was unknown as of Tuesday.

Everyone’s keeping an eye on the winds, Cipriano said. On Monday it was blowing east toward private property and crews were working the east and north sides of the fire, digging fire lines in an attempt to mitigate property damage. Those winds didn’t push the fire eastward, Cipriano said, and aren’t a current concern. The Great Falls branch of the National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 54 mph at the Helena Regional Airport on July 18, and gusts up to 77 mph at the Cut Bank airport in Glacier County on Tuesday.

“The next 10 days look hot and dry so I think it’s a valid concern that this is a time to be taking all the fire precautions seriously.”

Chiara Cipriano, public affairs officer, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest

The Jellison Fire, also near Helena on the eastern end of the Little Belt Mountains, was caused by lightning. Reported on July 12, the fire was well under control in about four days and is now 100% contained. A combination of moisture and few fires competing for resources has made responding and extinguishing fires easier so far this summer than last, Cipriano said. 

“The next 10 days look hot and dry so I think it’s a valid concern that this is a time to be taking all the fire precautions seriously,” Cipriano said Monday.

The lightning-caused Wilks Gulch Fire, 100% contained as of July 13, burned just east of Hot Springs. 

On Monday, Missoula County banned outdoor burning and bumped its fire danger to high. All of the state’s national forests, excepting the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, are reporting moderate or higher fire danger as of Tuesday. The Ashland and Sioux ranger districts in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest are reporting very high fire danger.

The National Interagency Coordinating Center expects hot, dry and breezy conditions and drying fuels to activate fires faster and make them more resistant to control over the coming week.

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Keely Larson

Keely Larson worked for two community newspapers in southwest Montana before starting the University of Montana's environmental and natural resources journalism graduate program. During her first year of grad school, she freelanced for Outside Business Journal and the Montana Standard and received the Crown Reporting Fellowship. Keely is MTFP's fire reporting intern for summer 2022.