9 a.m. update: The 900-acre Rock Creek fire remained 20 percent contained as of Saturday morning, according to a news release from the Rock Creek fire information office. Hand crews will continue to scout and build hand lines on the southern and northern portions of the fire. Structure protection will continue along U.S. Highway 212.
A total of 545 structures are threatened, but none have burned. The fire, located five miles south of Red Lodge, continues to burn in sage and timber in steep terrain.
With temperatures Saturday expected in the low to mid-70s, relative humidity of 30 to 35 percent and northwest winds of 5 to 20 mph, the fire is expected to behave in a similar fashion to Friday, with shifting winds and flare-ups.
Resources on the fire as of Saturday include five 20-person crews, 12 engines, two pieces of heavy equipment, two water tenders and two helicopters. A total of 216 people are assigned to the fire.
RED LODGE — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock boarded a helicopter Friday morning in Red Lodge for an aerial view of the Rock Creek fire burning five miles south of town.
The 45-minute flight over the 900-acre wildfire was part of a briefing for Bullock by federal and local fire management officials.
The flight took the governor over actively burning areas in rugged and steep terrain, through opaque white smoke and along the northern ridge line where tankers are dropping retardant.
Firefighters on the ground waved as the chopper flew by.
The fire wasn’t putting up much smoke in the morning, but by noon and early afternoon, a thick, dark plume could be seen billowing over the mountain ridge from Main Street in Red Lodge.
Flying the area and talking with fire managers, Bullock said, gives him a better perspective on firefighting efforts and what resources may be needed.
“It’s important for me to stay out of the way. It's also important for me to get an on-the-ground view. It’s important to see what the challenges are,” Bullock said.
“Priority number one is the safety of the firefighters and community members,” the governor said.
With at least another week of hot and dry conditions in the forecast, Bullock said it’s “still a scary time. You have to be really careful.”
Bigger fires burning in western Montana and the Rock Creek fire prompted Bullock to declare disaster emergencies in numerous counties and to activate the National Guard.
The state’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation also is fighting fires and, working with the Forest Service and Red Lodge firefighters, assisted in an initial attack on the Rock Creek fire.
The Rock Creek fire, listed as human caused, began at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 20 along U.S. Highway 212. By Friday evening, the fire had grown to 900 acres and was 20 percent contained. About 114 structures along the highway are threatened but none have burned.
Highway 212 is open to all traffic with a 35 mph speed limit through the fire area. There are no evacuation orders in effect.
A Northern Rockies Type 2 Incident Management Team, under the direction of Shawn Pearson with Red Lodge Fire Rescue, took over fire management Thursday. The team continued setting up a command center at the Carbon County Fairgrounds in Red Lodge on Friday.
More than 100 people attended a community meeting about the fire on Thursday night.
The governor flew into the Red Lodge Airport at about 10:30 a.m. and met with fire commanders in the 4-H barn for a half-hour briefing.
Dressed in blue jeans and a polo shirt, Bullock sat on the bleachers and asked questions about the fire’s size, its proximity to homes and what resources were being used or were needed.
Pearson praised the initial response by the DNRC, Forest Service and Red Lodge firefighters as “outstanding,” especially the efforts to shut down the fire’s south flank along the highway.
Firefighters on Friday focused on building lines in the southwest flank, an area Pearson called “really nasty” because of the steep and rocky terrain. Mop-up also continued along the northern boundary and a helicopter worked the fire with water drops.
Fire managers told Bullock they have requested more Hotshot crews because they are experienced at working in dangerous terrain and have ordered more helicopters.
“It’s a critical resource,” said Steve Munson, operations section chief.
Tankers are continuing to drop retardant on the northern ridge to help slow and buffer the fire’s spread, Munson said.
A priority is to build line along the northern edge to keep flames from moving over a ridge and down into the West Fork of Rock Creek, where there are numerous homes, the managers said.
Pearson said the Rock Creek fire is second on the priority list for resources in the Northern Rockies region, which includes Montana and Idaho.
Resources on the fire as of Friday include four 20-person crews, 10 engines, two pieces of heavy equipment, two water tenders and two helicopters. A total of 120 people are assigned to the fire.