By Andi Bourne

Being Strategic with Limited Resources


September 7, 2017

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Missoula County Sheriff's Office Deputy Mike Sunderland speaks to a Seeley Lake resident. This was his last day on the fire and in Seeley Lake. He was promoted into a detective position and will start Monday in Missoula.

SEELEY LAKE – More than 120 people gathered for the Seeley Lake Community meeting Thursday night at Mission Bible Fellowship. This was Day 46 of the Rice Ridge Fire.

Incident Commander Greg Poncin compared the fuel conditions and terrain to that of the Canyon Creek Fire that, on Sept. 6, 1988, burned more than 180,000 acres in a single burning period. He used the comparison because, while they aren't expecting a wind event that drove the Canyon Creek, the same challenges for containment and minimizing the risk to the community and the surrounding area exist on the Rice Ridge Fire.

Local Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Sunderland was recognized for all his work on the fire. This was his last day on the fire and in Seeley Lake. He was promoted to a detective and will start his new position in Missoula Monday.

Meeting Highlights:

• This season there has been 2,600 fire starts in the northern regions. Of those, 2,450 have been caught. Giving weather patterns, some fires will become established regardless of resources put on them.

• On the northwest section of the fire, they are anchoring into the 2015 Morrell Creek Complex and putting in direct line with hot shot crews. Heavy equipment is working in Camp Creek with the Flathead Hotshot crew. A thermal belt in the Camp Creek area is not dropping the temperatures so they are getting spots that they have to catch in the morning. Working in the Murphy and Findel Creeks they are working with the Prescott Hotshot crew to have been making progress but are not expected to wrap up operations for a couple more days.

• All lines are being mopped up (no heat, no smoke) for 100 feet in from the edge of the fire to secure the line.

• Between Blind and Swamp Creek there is spruce bog. It is burning despite typically being wet. They brought in a feller buncher to clear the fuels and snags before they can bring firefighters in to directly attack the edge. When the fire gets up in the trees it is throwing spot fires.

• There are still spot fires around the Forest Road 17511 just north of Cottonwood Lakes Road. There are less spots and firefighters are able to get in there but it is still an issue.

• Equipment and firefighters continue to work on the shaded fuel break on the Cottonwood Lakes Road (Forest Road 477) to the Monture Road with the intent to keep fire on the ground. They are putting that in 100 feet north of the road and plan to do a firing operation to bring fire to the Cottonwood Lakes Road. The team is concerned if they don't get the line secured and a dry cold front comes through, it will bring northwest winds that will make a run at the line, instead of hitting the line on their terms.

• The team is working on a an indirect line from Doney Lake to the North Fork Blackfoot because it gives the best opportunity for success. The intent is not to burn off that line, they just want to have that as a contingency line if they need it for future suppression options. Because of the fuels and terrain this fits with the objectives to fit with the objectives to protect the values at risk.

• There have been structure protection at the North Fork trailhead and were able to do direct suppression on the line.

• Poncin's team is working with the Park Creek Fire to coordinate efforts around Cooper's Lake.

• While structure protection continues, firefighters are working towards a cold fire perimeter because that is the best security for the community to go home.

• On the Liberty Fire, they are doing structure assessments near Placid Lake as a precaution. There was more fire activity when the smoke cap lifted today, however it has not made a major eastern push, this is just for planning.

• The evacuation orders will be lifted when things are safe. Once there is no additional growth and when the mop up is sufficiently deep to make sure there will be no spotting. Even when the big smoke and flames are not visible, there are still a lot of work going on that are essential to ensure the community's safety.

• This week predict thunderstorms and dry lightning. Concerned with outflow and frontal winds on Saturday and Sunday. This is what really pushes the fire and they would rather use firing operations and burn areas on their terms.

• The fire is about two miles away from Seeley-Swan High School. On Monday they were not able to be there and on Tuesday night they were allowed back in. The decision was based on the evaluation of the fire condition on the fire perimeter. They were able to due mop up on the fire line and they felt comfortable to allow people to return.

• The smoke and stagnant air caps the fire. The wind is needed to clear the air, but that also increases fire behavior.

• Yesterday no aerial resources were on the fire because of the smoke. This afternoon there were three Type 1 helicopters that worked on the northwest area of the fire.

There will be another community meeting in Ovando at 6pm tomorrow night at the Ovando School.

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Seeley Lake District Ranger Rachel Feigley addresses the community on Day 46 of the Rice Ridge Fire.


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