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Thunderstorms, high temperatures could bring increased fire activity over weekend

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Smoke from the Elmo 2 fire pours into Lake Mary Ronan last week. 

Scorching temperatures, dry heat and thunderstorms rolling in may not bode well for fire activity in western Montana through the weekend. 

Missoula National Weather Service Meteorologist Kevin Shive said there’s potential for fire igniting from lighting strikes that may hit over the weekend.

On Friday afternoon, NWS Missoula issued a severe thunderstorm watch warning for western Montana and much of Idaho. Hail, wind and lighting were all possible threats through the evening. 

Shive predicted more thunder and lightning storms would roll in throughout Friday afternoon and evening. Storms, combined with temperatures nearing 100 degrees, make for dangerous fire conditions. Contingent on wind patterns, Shive said there’s more potential for fire activity this coming week.

“It’s not necessarily a great situation,” he said

While smoke in the Missoula valley remained at bay for the most part, Missoula County moved its fire danger to Extreme on Thursday. Fire danger is also Extreme on the Flathead Indian Reservation and all Lolo National Forest lands.

To date this year, firefighters in the Lolo National Forest have responded to 36 blazes, 24 of which were human-caused, a Lolo National Forest press release stated. Last week, there were three fires started from humans.

Extreme fire danger means all fires start quickly and burn intensely, and small fires turn into big fires much quicker.

Reporter Joshua Murdock asks K Mita, Bridger Aerospace director of marketing and communications, how Super Scoopers fit in to aerial firefighting.

Elmo 2 Fire

Crews fighting the Elmo 2 blaze have made decent progress, and vegetation burned has remained at about 21,000 acres for the last few days.

CSKT Division of Fire dispatch confirmed all evacuation orders in the area had been lifted, except for Camp Tuffit Road and West Shore Road. Lake Mary Ronan State Park and the Elmo fishing access boat ramp both reopened.

The massive fire, which burned eight structures at its peak last week, moved to 75% containment on Friday.

Thursday brought in thunder and lightning across western Montana, resulting in a new fire start about 1 mile north of Lake Mary Ronan. As of Thursday evening, it was estimated to be at roughly 2 to 3 acres. Firefighters and a helicopter worked on constructing a fire line on Friday.

The Red Horn fire, which has burned 511 acres seven miles northeast of St. Ignatius in the Mission Mountains, remained at 0% containment on Thursday. No structures are threatened, and there are no evacuation orders in effect.

Hog Trough

Burning just 18 miles south east of Hamilton, the lightning-caused Hog Trough fire has remained at a steady 824 acres torched over the last few days. It’s now 64% contained.

Firefighters are removing hazardous trees to improve a constructed line. Fire behavior is expected to continue as smoldering, with strong outflow winds possibly causing fire movement in areas not getting rain, an update on the Hog Trough fire information Facebook page stated.

Resources are available to fight any new blazes that start from passing lightning and thunderstorms.

Moose fire

The Moose fire, near North Fork, Idaho, is still ablaze in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. It’s scorched 75,481 acres and remains at 21% contained. Officials determined it was human-caused.

On Friday, the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office reduced the evacuation notice to “ready” status from Tower Creek to North Fork and west to Caddiagan Ranch, a press release from the U.S. Forest Service stated.

Firefighters are working 16-hour days and making headway on objectives for containment efforts. Rainfall and favorable conditions helped teams knock down the blaze, the press release stated. Southwest winds and scattered rain and thunderstorms were predicted on Friday.

The increased humidity should make fire activity more moderated in coming days.

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