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Bridge Coulee, part of Lodgepole Complex

Firefighters on July 21 battle the Bridge Coulee Fire, which is part of the 69,000-acre Lodgepole Complex fire. 

Courtesy InciWeb

UPDATE at noon Saturday: The BLM announced there will be a community meeting Saturday at 5 p.m. at the VFW hall in Jordan.

UPDATE as of 9 a.m. Saturday: 

The Bridge Coulee Fire crossed Highway 200 Friday night, according to Al Nash with the Bureau of Land Management. The road, temporarily closed, has reopened to travel. Expect limited visibility due to smoke. Travelers need to drive slowly through the fire impacted area and obey all signs and flaggers, Nash said.

Evacuations remain in place for residents north of Highway 200 to Fort Peck Lake and west of Edwards Road in Garfield County. The Red Cross has set up an evacuation shelter at the VFW Hall in Jordan.

Garfield County and the Incident Management Team are making plans for a community meeting. Details will be released later Saturday.

 The Western Montana Type 2 Incident Management Team took over management of the Lodgepole Complex at 6 a.m.

The Lodgepole Complex, made up of multiple wildfires burning a total of 69,000 acres of land in Garfield and Petroleum Counties, prompted evacuation orders on Friday night, according to the Bureau of Land Management. 

The evacuation order is for "the entire area north of Highway 200 from the Petroleum County line and west of Edwards Road," said BLM spokesman Al Nash. 

Some areas included are Big Bart Coulee, Haley Coulee, Benzien School area, Benzien Road to Steve Forks Road and the Battle Coulee area. 

The fire is made up of four fires. The largest of the fires is the Bridge Coulee fire burning 16 miles north of Mosby and estimated at 50,000 acres. The Barker fire 20 miles north of Sand Springs is estimated at 12,000 acres. The South Breaks fire 27 miles northeast of Mosby is estimated to be 7,000 acres. The Square Butte fire 19 miles north of Sand Springs is estimated at 808 acres. 

"Early Thursday we estimated it at 2,500 acres," Nash said of the Bridge Coulee fire. "Now that individual fire is 50,000 acres." 

According to the  National Wildfire Coordinating Group website InciWeb, the Bridge Coulee fire has crossed the Musselshell River into Petroleum County. 

No containment has been reported for the complex of fires yet, Nash said. The Lodgepole Complex is the largest fire this summer in Montana. 

The fire began on Wednesday at approximately 3:20 p.m., and Nash said a cause has yet to be determined. 

Fuels for the fire include timber, foot-tall short grass and 2-feet tall brush. "A lot of open range with pockets of timber, that'd probably be the best way to describe it," Nash said of the fire's fuels. The fire is burning a mixture of public, state and private land, Nash said. 

"Things are extraordinarily dry. We've had several days of hot temperatures, very low humidity and dusty wind," Nash said. "All of those lead to very critical fire weather conditions and can result in extreme fire behavior." 

Nash said firefighters have been working on the blaze and aided by air tanker drops of retardant. "It's not for lack of trying he said," Nash said of the difficulty halting the fire's progress so far. So far, 153 firefighting personnel have been assigned to the Lodgepole Complex. 

Speaking Friday night, Nash said he did not have any confirmed reports of structural damage. 

Rick Connell's Western Montana Type 2 Incident Management Team was scheduled to try and take control of the fire Friday night. Connell was incident commander for the July Fire that burned 11,000 acres earlier this summer near the towns of Zortman and Landusky in Phillips County. 


Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.