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Crews stay busy fighting fires near Seeley Lake, Garrison and in Bitterroot

by Rob Chaney |

Smokejumpers and ground pounders stayed busy Monday, digging line around new western Montana fires started by lightning in recent days.

A team of 14 parachuted into the Dunham fire on the Seeley Lake Ranger District on Sunday. The 10-acre fire is located about one mile northeast of Dunham Point. Lolo National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig said 30 mph wind gusts prevented aircraft from helping the ground crews on Sunday. The fire has one type 2 crew, in addition to the smokejumpers, and two more 20-person Hotshot crews are on the way.

The Chrandal fire along the Montana-Idaho border remained at 2,200 acres Monday, although gusty winds stirred up some torching and other troublesome behavior. Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay said some expected thunderstorms failed to emerge, but high temperatures and low humidity remained a challenge.

The fire has a crew of 418 battling it, including 100 elite firefighters. Their main activity focused on the Chrandal Creek and Mine Creek drainages, while the fire’s northeast flank almost has a complete line in place. The whole fire is 40 percent contained. Almost 40 homes in the Hughes Creek area near the fire remain under a stage 1 evacuation warning.

Elsewhere in the Bitterroot National Forest, firefighters found two unattended campfires in the West Fork Ranger District.

“In both cases, if fire crews had not been close by, the abandoned campfires could have quickly and easily spread with just a little wind,” McKay said. Although both campfires were in campground rings, one group of campers had left the scene without extinguishing their blaze, while the second group had gone hiking while their fire still smoldered.

“This is the fifth abandoned campfire discovered and extinguished by firefighters this summer on the Bitterroot National Forest,” McKay said. “Crews have also put out 20 lightning-caused fires.”

The 40-acre Wet Cottonwood fire north of Garrison also withstood gusty winds and now approaches 70 percent containment, according to Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokeswoman Cindy Super. A crew of 70 is working on the blaze.

“We had a pretty mellow day,” Super said Monday. “We’ve released all but one helicopter, and we have pumps and hoses in place to put water on the fire. Everything seems to have held, so that’s promising.”