Updated: Eureka-area fire burns 40 buildings in Amish community; other fires grow

September 5, 2017 GMT

EUREKA — The Caribou fire overran some 40 buildings in Northwest Montana over the weekend, including at least 10 homes, in an Amish community.

The 17,000-acre fire is burning to the west of Lake Koocanusa in Lincoln County, right on the U.S.-Canadian border.

It made several multi-mile runs over the weekend, according to Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe, and burned the 10 houses and 30 outbuildings in a quick burst Saturday.

“They were under pre-evacuation and when it started a run, we got everyone out of there,” Bowe said Tuesday.

Sheriff’s deputies escorted residents back to their property to survey the damage Monday, according to Bowe.

There are 187 West Kootenai residents evacuated from the area north of Tooley Lake, Bowe said, while the area south of the lake and Basin Creek is on evacuation warning.

About 300 people live in the area, which has had an Amish community since the early 1970s.

The Rice Ridge fire continued sharing resources with the Lolo Peak fire Tuesday, taking on Greg Poncin’s Northern Rockies Type I team after the National Guard moved up to Seeley Lake to help with evacuations last week.

The 118,550-acre fire, which ballooned by more than 50,000 acres over the hot, dry, windy Labor Day Weekend, slowed some Monday night, though it did gain some steam in the north, overtaking the Reef fire in the Bob Marshall wilderness, according to a daily update.

It also stretched into Lewis and Clark County near Spread Creek, and a spot fire in the North Fork of the Blackfoot River, right above the North Fork Trailhead, saw significant growth in the 1988 Canyon Creek fire scar.

Firefighters continue to strengthen fireline around Seeley Lake, which still has hundreds of residents under evacuations and evacuation warnings. Crews plan to conduct burnouts along Cottonwood Road Tuesday.

Seeley Lake High School and Elementary School remain closed and under evacuation orders.

More than 1,000 structures are threatened by the six-week old fire, though none have burned. There have been 11 injuries from the fire, out of the nearly 800 people working on containment.

The fire’s cost is estimated at $30.6 million.

The Lolo Peak fire is at about one-third containment, largely from completed dozer line along the Highway 93 and 12 borders of the 45,000-acre fire.

Strong winds kept fire crews busy overnight Monday into Tuesday and the fire is expected to keep growing to the south as conditions stay dry.

Structure protection and sprinklers will be laid out at the Avalanche Creek Campground Tuesday as the Sprague fire settles into the Walton drainage near the Lincoln Lake trail west of Lake McDonald.

Air quality levels in Missoula have settled back to Unhealthy after a day of Hazardous levels Monday.

According to Missoula County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield, conditions around western Montana are staying at least at the Unhealthy level due to smoke from the Pacific Northwest blowing in and getting trapped under a high-pressure ridge that will stay in place for a few days.

The Bitterroot Valley had Unhealthy air as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, as did Frenchtown and Clearwater. Thompson Falls was up to Hazardous, while Seeley Lake’s monitor stopped giving reports after eight straight hours this morning topping out the particulate level chart.

“Those of us who are looking at a lot of overhead local smoke will continue to see deteriorating air quality this morning, and potentially some improvement in the afternoon when convection tries to lift the smoke off the valley floor,” Coefield wrote in her update. “Unfortunately, with high pressure setting up and overhead PNW smoke coming to call, there’s a good chance that we won’t see very noticeable improvement.”