Subscribe for 17¢ / day

UPDATE -- 6:30 P.M.: HAMILTON — The Ravalli County sheriff and the Sawtooth fire incident command team have bumped up the evacuation level to Stage 2 as of 12:30 p.m. Monday.

That means all residents within the wildfire evacuation zone should now leave their homes for their own protection and that of firefighters.

The American Red Cross has established an evacuation center at the First Baptist Church at 345 Cooper Lane, Hamilton.  The phone number for the shelter is 363-3735.  The American Red Cross can also be 800-272-6668

The Stage 2 evacuation zone includes all residential and commercial properties west of Westside Road; south of Paradise Trail and Blodgett Camp Road; and North of North Gold Creek Loop.

According to the incident command team: "Stage 2 Evacuation notice is the Request/Order and Security.  It means evacuation is necessary in order to protect the lives of area occupants and emergency personnel responding to the incident.  Law Enforcement personnel shall attempt to convey this order/request to citizens door to door, however if this not practical or possible this information may be delivered via a Public Address System from a patrol vehicle.  Should the latter method be employed the personnel will activate the emergency lights and siren on the vehicle.  Roadblocks and 24 hour patrols by law enforcement will be instituted to protect property within the evacuated area."

UPDATE -- 8:30 A.M.: HAMILTON -- High winds sent the Sawtooth fire on a multi-front run Sunday night, and fire managers now estimate the acreage burned at 1,300 -- a threefold increase.

Located seven miles west-southwest of Hamilton, the fire was flown overnight using infrared detection.

"It is actually moving in two, possibly three fronts," fire information officer Gregg DeNitto said Monday morning.

"Based on that infrared information, we know the fire has spotted over into the head of Barley Creek and the North Fork of Owings Creek on the northeast edge. The fire is also moving in a southeasterly direction in Sawtooth Creek."

A stage 1 evacuation notice has been issued for all residential and commercial properties west of Westside Road; south of Paradise Trail and Blodgett Camp Road; and north of North Gold Creek Loop.

"This means there is a high probability of the need to evacuate," DeNitto said. "Residents are responsible to make arrangements to move property and livestock.

"Some residents, primarily those with special health needs or other concerns, should relocate during this stage."

The Ravalli County Emergency Operations Center has a public information phone number that interested parties may call: 406-375-6650

DeNitto said helicopters were used Sunday to drop retardant and water where that was effective. However, air operations had to be suspended due to the high winds over the fire area.

"The winds are not being experienced at the lower elevations in the valley, and that can be confusing observers," he said. "Fire Operations are planning to resume the use of helicopters to utilize the retardant being made at our portable retardant plant located at the ICP.

"The winds will, of course, dictate that use. Wind also has an impact on the effectiveness of the retardant application. Retardant is generally not effective in winds above 25 mph as it breaks up, and you do not get a good application at the target."

"We expect the dry cold front weather to continue today," DeNitto said Monday morning. "A red flag warning is in place from noon on today. Winds are forecast to 40 to 50 mph over the fire area with humidity actually increasing slightly.

"Engines and crews will be lined out along the contingency line to provide structure protection. The Westside Road and those feeding off of it from Roaring Lion Road on the South and Paradise Trail and Blodgett Camp Road on the North will be closed to all but local resident traffic to provide for the public safety as they deal with necessary work they have to do in preparation for an evacuation order if it should come."

An information trailer on Highway 93 at Roaring Lion Road will be staffed from noon until 7 p.m. each day.

Closures include Sawtooth Creek Trail #123, Roaring Lion Trail #124 and Canyon Creek Trail #525.



ORIGINAL STORY: MISSOULA -- A windy, smoky day prompted fire officials to issue a Stage 1 evacuation notice for a “pretty large area” west of Hamilton where the Sawtooth fire is burning.

The area west of Westside Road, south of Paradise Trail and Blodgett Camp Road and north of North Gold Creek Loop are all under Stage 1 evacuation, meaning there is a high probability of the need to evacuate, said fire information officer Pat McKelvey.

Area law enforcement officers were working on Sunday evening to notify all area residents of the notice. McKelvey was unsure of the exact structure count within the affected area.

“It’s a lot,” he said.

The Sawtooth fire was listed at 570 acres and 5 percent contained on Sunday morning. Winds and heavy smoke obscured crews’ ability to track the fire’s exact movement later in the day, but they know the fire is moving, McKelvey said.

“We do know it’s spreading in a couple of directions,” he said.

Winds have pushed the fire in easterly and southerly directions toward the bottom of Sawtooth Canyon. It is likely to have spotted over the top into Canyon Creek as well, said a press release from the Sawtooth fire camp.

The fire’s movement has prompted the closure of Roaring Lion Trail and Canyon Creek Trails. Sawtooth Creek Trail No. 123 remains closed due to fire activity, the release said. Blodgett Creek trail and Blodgett Campground have also been closed as has the Canyon Creek Trail

The increased fire activity continued to deteriorate air quality around Western Montana.

As 5 p.m. Sunday, air quality in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys was unhealthy, according to a press release from the Missoula City County Health Department.

“The expected Sunday afternoon winds did not materialize in the lower elevations and smoke remains on the valley floors,” the release said.

When conditions are unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors.

Air quality in Frenchtown was listed as unhealthy, and Seeley Lake was listed as unhealthy for sensitive groups, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality air monitoring website late Sunday.

The Mustang Complex fire burning in the Bitterroot Valley and in Idaho was also very active Sunday.

“Winds were reported up on the ridge at 30 to 35 MPH. That’s why we had some active fire,” said Catherine Hibbard, fire information officer for the Montana portion of the fire.

In Montana, the fire advanced Sunday into the Gattin Ranch area and was seen spotting around the Sheek Creek area, Hibbart said.

Officials in Idaho ordered a Level 3 evacuation order for residents along the Highway 93 corridor from Quartz Creek to North Fork on Sunday morning.

Hull Creek, Hughes Creek and Ditch Creek west of Highway 93 also remain under Level 3 evacuation notice, according to Mustang Complex’s InciWeb.

The lightning-caused Mustang Fire was reported on July 30 and has burned more than 261,000 acres, mostly in Idaho.

Hibbart said the crews’ main concern moving into the week will be keeping watch on predicted high winds and working to keep the fire from further advancing into the Gattin Ranch area, where there are about 30 structures to protect.

“We’re hoping to divert it more to the east, which would make it go into areas that are uninhabited,” Hibbard said.