Thursday, May 23, 2024

Bull Gin Complex fires continue to grow

The Western News | September 13, 2022 7:00 AM

Dry, windy conditions in the last five days have more than doubled the size of wildfires burning in the Bull Gin Complex on the Kootenai National Forest.

According to the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 7, the fires have burned a little more than 3,000 acres in Sanders County, near the Lincoln County border. There was 0% containment as of Monday morning.

The Government Fire (1,791 acres) is located two miles northeast of Noxon, the Billiard Fire (992 acres) is located two miles northeast of Heron and the Isabella Lake Fire (264 acres) is in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

Fire managers said another smoke-filled day is expected as smoke from fires to the west and local fires settles over the area. Visibility will be significantly reduced and motorists are asked follow lowered speed limits along the highways. Temperatures and fire activity will be moderated by smoke in the area.

Fire managers are predicting the spread because surface litter, dead and down bole wood and brush are dry and will readily support fire spread. Live fuels are curing and becoming more available to burn. Active surface fire with group tree torching and upslope runs have been observed producing short range spotting.

On Sept. 8, the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office placed residents along Government Mountain Road and Timber Ridge Road into pre-evacuation status. People are asked to sign up for Sanders County emergency alerts at 406-203-0082 to stay informed on the status of emergency conditions.

As of Monday, Sept. 12, there were 607 personnel working the fires. They included 14 crews, 23 engines, 12 water tenders and 27 heavy equipment.

According to fire managers, fire growth on the Government Fire occurred on the north, east, and south sides later Sunday evening with the most active burning taking place from 6 p.m. and early morning.

Handcrews, engines and skidgines successfully held the fire at control lines on the west side in the Government Creek area while also mitigating trees falling over the control line and utilizing water to cool the fire’s edge.

On the east side, as the fire approaches the Rock Creek drainage, vegetation removal along control lines is ongoing as firefighters and heavy equipment reduce the fuels along the road system. Construction of the dozer line to the south of the fire and north of residences on Government Mountain Road is complete. Handcrews will clean up the dozer line removing snags and other fuels as necessary and install hose lays to ensure water is available on the line.

Heavy equipment, followed by handcrews are clearing Road 2763 of fuels to create a check-line, a temporary fireline used to regulate fire heat and intensity as the fire continues to slowly move south. Night operations are in place with engines monitoring fire spread to the south and attending to trees that fall over the control line on the west end of the fire. Firefighters on the three-acre Rock Lake Fire will ensure the perimeter is secure and there are no areas of heat near the fire edge.

On the Billiard Fire, fire managers report the northwest side of the fire is holding along constructed dozer and handline near the 2290 road, northeast of Fatman Mountain. Firefighters will use small firing operations to consume fuels between the control line and the main fire to square off the fire’s edge as the fire reaches the line near Fatman Saddle. Water systems including hoses, sprinklers, pumps and portable water tanks are in place for all structures along Blue Creek, Blue Creek Bay, Hillside Lane and Fatman Road.

On the Isabella Lake Fire, there was minimal growth, with about 60 acres since last week and just nine acres on Sunday. The fire is burning in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness between the East Fork of Bull River and Isabella Creek, west of Isabella Lake and north of Saint Paul Lake. The fire remains unstaffed and monitored from the air.

Area, road, and trail closures are in place for all three fires to provide for public safety and firefighting operations. More detailed information regarding closures can be found on Inciweb or the Kootenai National Forest webpage.

Also, the Star Peak Lookout was wrapped in heat resistant material on Friday by local Cabinet Ranger District employees and Grangeville Helitack crew members.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 70s with relatively light winds (4 to 8 mph) out of the east along the ridgetops.