HELENA — Two helicopters from the Army National Guard continued to drop buckets of water Friday on a small blaze that started Wednesday after a live firing exercise in the Limestone Hills Training Area in the Elkhorn Mountains near Townsend.
Maj. Tim Crowe said the fire, which remained at 15 acres, was in rugged terrain that’s difficult for firefighters to reach. Instead, they’re putting water on it from the air to ensure that all the hot spots are extinguished.
“It’s in extremely vertical terrain, so it’s most effective to put water on it from above,” Crowe said. “Today’s efforts are preventative; it’s not actively burning from what I can see. We’re making sure we’re doing everything we can to get out those hot spots.”
The helicopters used buckets to haul water from the Missouri River to the blaze.
The fire was started while soldiers were training with new Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which involves a series of live fire exercises.
According to an email to Broadwater County commissioners, the guard is planning to resume limited live fire operations after 5 a.m. today, based on expected fire conditions and weather projections.
The decision to move forward with the live firing portion of the training was done in coordination with both the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the U.S. Forest Service.
The guard will suspend live firing operations immediately “should fire or weather conditions change and become incompatible with our training activities,” the email reads.
Earlier this week, a study was released by researchers with the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula after questions arose in Utah last year about ricocheting bullets starting fires. The study looked at various types of bullets and how hot they got when they ricocheted off hard items.
Researchers found that some bullet fragments can reach temperatures as high as 1,400 degrees, and that bullets reliably caused ignitions, especially if they contained steel cores or jackets or were made of solid copper. Lead core and coppered jackets were less likely to ignite fine, dried fuels.
Crowe said that the guard uses a variety of weapons made out of various metals.
Red Shale fire grows
Toward the north end of Lewis and Clark County, the Red Shale wildfire has grown to 3,850 acres. It was spotted on July 18 by the Beartop Lookout at 4:30 p.m., and is believed to have been sparked by a lightning storm that passed over the area the previous evening.
The fire is burning in upper Red Shale Creek, west of the North Fork Sun River, about two miles west-northwest of the Gates Park area in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It’s burning in areas of heavily downed timber that burned in thee 1988 Gates Park Fire area, as well as in thick live lodgepole pines that have since regrown.
“This continues to be a fuel-driven fire,” said Dave Cunningham, the spokesman for the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Forest managers said the fire is benefitting the forest by cleaning up some areas where downed trees made it nearly impossible to navigate, so they’re not actively suppressing it. Cunningham said they have used two helicopters to drop some water on it on Thursday to help guide its direction, and 12 personnel are stationed near the Gates Park area.
“The fire primarily is active on its north end, moving toward the center of the 1988 fire,” said Mike Munoz, the Rocky Mountain District ranger. “It’s doing a good job cleaning it out.”
He said they’ve developed a long-term management plan, which includes action points at which they may more actively fight the fire.