Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

Evacuation Orders Downgraded, Containment Increases

 

September 14, 2017

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Firefighters did fuels mitigation around the Monture Guard Station and set up sprinkler systems around the cabin with pumps in Morrell Creek. Pictured is the affects of the crown run the fire made at the guard station Saturday night, Sept. 2. The fire stopped 200 feet to the north of the station. It burned all the way to the fence on the west and came within 10 feet of one of the outbuildings. Division Supervisor Phil Oosahwe estimated the fire burned within 0.2 of a mile of the Monture Campground on the other side of the creek.

SEELEY LAKE – "Evacuation Downgraded – Residents can return to their homes," were welcome words to Seeley Lake residents, some who had been displaced for more than two weeks. This week firefighters were able to contain the areas of the Rice Ridge Fire that concerned Greg Poncin's Type 1 Incident Management Team around Seeley Lake to a point where they felt it was safe to let residents return starting Tuesday, Sept. 5. Residents are asked to leave all evacuation order and warning markings on their property until all warnings are lifted.

The Rice Ridge Fire has grown to nearly 140,000 acres as of Tuesday, Sept. 12 and containment has increased to 33 percent. Firefighters are mopping up, or putting out all heat and smoke, 100 feet from the fire's edge. With lines holding along the west and southwest edges of the fire, the focus this past weekend shifted to the southeast and eastern areas of the fire that are threatening the community of Ovando and Coopers Lake area.

Evacuation orders are still in place for the Monture Cabin and Coopers Lake areas. The waters of Seeley Lake were opened Sept. 6 and closed again Sept. 10 to allow the fixed-wing CL-215 "Super Scoopers" to hold the fire north of Coopers Lake in the McDermott Creek drainage. Firefighters are fighting fire with fire. Sunday they started a strategic burn operation totalling 4,500-6,000 acres north of the Cottonwood Lake Road (Forest Road 477) from Little Shanley Road east to Monture Road.

In preparation for the burn out, feller bunchers, clippers, processors, skidders and forwarders put in a 100-foot shaded fuel break to the north of Cottonwood Lakes Road (Forest Road 477). Loggers left large Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and larch spaced far enough apart to keep fire out of the crowns yet shade the understory from the direct sun. All the non-mercantile trees and brush were removed and hauled off-site or mulched. Mercantile timber was decked to be sold.

"Without the logging industry, we can't build line like this," said Public Information Officer Mike Cole. "The timber industry is a necessary part of firefighting."

Division Supervisor Phil Oosahwe said where the main fire is burning north of the Cottonwood Lakes Road is heavily timbered, steep and inaccessible. They will use Plastic Spherical Devices (PSD), or ping pong balls, dropped from a helicopter to ignite the area until it gets near the road. Then firefighters will light it by hand.

Bringing fire to the road allows firefighters to fight the fire on their terms in an area that is more accessible with better access to supplies, water and medical support.

"This will give us a low intensity burn so we don't kill the forest and get a high mortality rate," said Oosahwe. "If we can control this ourselves and manage it on our time, that will buy us time and finish the prep work. The risk versus reward is a lot better. If something happens up there, it is a lot farther from the road."

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

The 100-foot shaded fuel break in the right of the photo north of the Cottonwood Lakes Road. The merchantable timber is decked on the south side of the road waiting to be hauled out of the area.

When high temperatures combine with the record low fuel moistures seen this year, fire is seen burning through logging units and old burn scars, where in some cases these areas act as fire barriers. The probability of embers igniting a spot fire is more than 90 percent.

There have been several reports of bear activity in Seeley Lake in the evacuated area, on the line and around the spike camp east of Ovando. Cole said there have been a half dozen reports of bears on the fireline, which is not unusual when working in bear country.

Firefighters will be receiving training on how to deal with black and grizzly bears on the fireline. The training will include what to do to avoid bears, what to do if they are encountered on the line and how to use bear spray. Cole anticipates several firefighters will be trained to carrying bear spray on the line.

"Bears are just like everything else...it is another watch out situation for firefighters," said Cole. "We add it to the list of safety issues that they needed to know about and be prepared for."

 

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