County calls for voluntary evacuations; shelter set up in Columbus

2012-07-26T06:27:00Z 2013-02-12T21:56:46Z County calls for voluntary evacuations; shelter set up in ColumbusBy CARMEN DAYE IRISH Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

1:50 p.m.: Officials in Stillwater County have called for a voluntary evacuation for a five-mile stretch along Shane Creek Road as the 3,000-acre Skibstad fire approaches.

A news release from fire officials said that the notice applies to homes with address numbers from 565 to 981.

A shelter for evacuees has been set up at Columbus High School.

1 p.m.: Cooney Reservoir has been closed to allow helicopters using buckets to dip water from the reservoir to fight the Skibstad fire.

Montana State Parks have issued the emergency closure, saying that helicopter operations over and on the surface of the reservoir create a danger to the public.

The fire is burning approximately two miles northwest of Cooney.

Noon: Corie Mydland was collecting her family’s cattle that they’d let loose on Wednesday night, as the fire consumed pasture along Skibstad Road.

“We ended up cutting the fence last night for them,” Mydland said. “And now we’re here to take them back home.”

The family runs Mydland Angus of Joliet and was tracking down 30 cow-calf pairs.


11 A.M.: Melvin Hoferer, Joliet fire chief, said containment lines are established on the south and east sides of the Skibstad fire.

The blaze is extremely active on the north and west sides of the fire, he said.

"We're trying to get more resources on it right now," said Hoferer, who is working the blaze in Carbon County.

Firelines on the north and west sides of the blaze have been lost several times, he said.

The fire is kicking up thick columns of smoke and visibility is low.

The Skibstad fire is a potential threat to more than 100 structures, particularly in the Shane Ridge, Shane Creek and East Shane Creek subdivisions, according to a 10:30 a.m. update from the DNRC.

Pre-evacuation notices are in place, but  mandatory evacuations may be necessary.

A Type 2 incident management team is en route and should take over later today. Additional helicopters, engines and crews have been requested by the state.

Tinder-dry fuels and constant wind are presenting tough conditions.

“It’s a fuel-driven fire,” said Paula Short, DNRC fire information officer. “The vegetation is so dry, it’s carrying fire overnight, even in cooler temperatures and high humidities.”

Acreage estimates for the fire are conservative, and Short said the DNRC will provide a more accurate figure after a crew flies the blaze today.



6 A.M.:  The Skibstad fire that started on Wednesday evening southeast of Columbus near Highway 421 grew to 3,000 acres overnight and has spread to Carbon County.

Paula Short, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said the fire remains zero percent contained.

"Plans today call for more structure protection and strengthening what lines we have," she said. "Air tankers and helicopters will be available to attack the fire, coming from Billings. The problem is it’s not a very good weather day today. It’ll be a little cooler but the winds should be going all day."

Short said that, prior to contrary reports, no evacuations were ordered of Wednesday night. Residents were put on pre-evacuation notice and some of them decided to leave their homes, she said.

The sheriff's offices in Stillwater and Carbon counties said that no roads have been closed as of 6:30 a.m. due to the fire.

Officials believe the fire started when a fire in a building in the area spread.

About 60 personnel worked the fire overnight and a Type 2 Incident Management Team will take over command of the fire later in the afternoon. 

OVERNIGHT REPORT: Stillwater County officials ordered evacuations and fire officials called for reinforcements to fight a fire that sparked at about 6 p.m. Wednesday and had grown to at least 600 acres three hours later.

Crews planned to fight the Skibstad fire through the night, hoping to get the upper hand on the wind-driven blaze, said Paula Short, fire information officer with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Stillwater County officials ordered evacuations for homes in the Shane Creek area south of the Skibstad fire. Pre-evacuation notices went to residents on East Shane Creek and south to the Carbon County line warning residents to monitor fire information sources and be prepared to leave if advised by fire officials to do so.

The fire ignited between Highway 421 and Shane Creek Road at about 6 p.m.

By 8:45 p.m., the fire had grown to between 600 and 800 acres and had spread from Stillwater into Carbon County, Short said.

Fire crews and 45 engines from Sweet Grass, Yellowstone, Stillwater and Carbon counties along with state DNRC firefighters were fighting the blaze, which was not contained at all at press time Wednesday.

Two helicopters were making water drops and two air tankers dropped retardant on the fire, Short said.

The aircraft were sent from the Billings Interagency Dispatch Center.

Short said the fire was burning most actively to the south in grass, sage and timber.

Melissa Fraze, co-owner of Keyser Creek Arena four miles north of Columbus, said flames could be seen from the arena across the Stillwater River when the fire broke out.

“It got a lot bigger quickly,” Fraze said. “The fire looks really hot — it’s red and glowing and I think people in the area are pretty scared with all the other recent fires.”

On Saturday, fire crews aggressively hit two fires about 10 miles apart that burned about 15 miles southwest of Joliet — the largest on Shane Ridge, which burned about 40 acres. The other fire started on Upper Flats. Both were ignited by lightning.

“The weekend fire was a good fire drill for the area,” Fraze said. “People brought their horses to our stalls when the fire broke out. So people know the drill to bring their horses here.”

Horses may be brought to Keyser Creek Arena at 390 Rapelje Road, Fraze said.

As of 10:30 p.m., the arena had taken in at least a dozen horses from about 10 residents. Fraze said about 90 stalls are available.

Officials have not released the cause of the Skibstad fire, other than to say it appears to be the result of a fire in a secondary structure that spread to surrounding timber.

Firefighters and 45 engines were on the blaze and hoping cooler temperatures and increased humidity overnight would help with the suppression effort.

On Thursday, they will be assisted by helicopters and air tankers, along with additional engines ordered on Wednesday night, according to the DNRC.

Thursday's weather forecast calls for cooler temperatures, but gusty winds also are predicted. No injuries have been reported.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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