Helena - Lewis and Clark National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
2880 Skyway Drive
Helena, MT 59602
American Fork, Balsinger, and Woods Creek Fires Update
Saturday, August 14, 2021 – 9 a.m.
Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team
Dan Dallas, Incident Commander
Information phone: 406-426-9612
Information staffing hours: 8:00 am – 8:00 pm
Special Notes: A public fire information briefing is planned for 7pm in Wilsall tonight at the Rodeo Grounds.
The Bureau of Land Management Butte and Lewiston Field Offices issued an area closure order yesterday for lands affected by the Woods Creek Fire. See: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/article/7649/63667/
Current Situation: Yesterday’s weather increased fire activity, especially on the Woods Creek and American Fork Fires. Winds were light and mostly not aligned with the terrain. There were no major fire runs. Firefighters increased containment on all three fires. Work continues today on mopping up containment lines, direct attack where feasible, and indirect attack where appropriate based on weather, fuels, and topography. A surge of hotshot crews will come in for several days focusing first on the Woods Creek Fire, then moving to the American Fork Fire.
Point/Zone Protection objectives are being used on all three fires. This is a suppression strategy to protect specific assets or highly valued resources from fire. Points or zones being protected may be communities, individual structures, or areas of high resource value. The overall objective for all three fires is full suppression.
American Fork Fire
Acreage: 19,749 Containment: 58% Start date: July 17, 2021 Cause: Lightning Personnel: 90
The American Fork Fire is burning in the central part of the Crazy Mountains, approximately 24 miles southwest of Harlowton, Montana. Firefighters made progress on containing the western edge of the fire yesterday. Increasing fire activity is primarily in the north and northwest in Divisions A and P. A previous fire scar to the north will help to check fire progress in that direction. Crews found and extinguished heat in the Buck Creek area and used aircraft to extinguish smokes near Loco Mountain. Today they will continue working toward Creek Road, mopping up and securing line. On the north edge, firefighters will pick up in Division M, working east from Crandall Creek. They will also continue cold-trailing along the containment line in Division A, ensuring no heat remains.
Acreage: 8,614 Containment: 50% Start date: July 9, 2021 Cause: Lightning; Personnel: 218
The Balsinger Fire is burning approximately five miles west of Neihart, Montana. This fire is holding more moisture and therefore showing less activity than the other two fires. Containment increased yesterday in Division I along the southeast edge of the fire. Work will continue today along the southern edge of Division I, pushing to the east and west. In Division T, they will focus on a hot area in the northeast corner of the fire near the Thunder Mountain ridge. They will also continue preparation work on Divide Road. Most of the suppression activity on this fire will be indirect attack, due to extreme drought conditions and terrain. Firefighters will continue to work from and improve established anchor points. Crews will also continue cold-trailing and mopping up containment lines.
Woods Creek Fire
Acreage: 49,721 Containment: 40% Start date: July 10, 2021 Cause: Lightning Personnel: 477
The Woods Creek Fire is in the Big Belt Mountains, approximately 16 miles northeast of Townsend, Montana. Firefighters increased containment yesterday at the southeast edge of the fire in Division OO. Divisions MM and OO are now combined. Dozers are working in this area down Windy Ridge to the Deep Creek Canyon fire scar. Light fuels and lower elevations enable good fire control in this area Air attack provided substantial support yesterday and will continue to assist ground crews today. In Division QQ, there is fire activity near the SS division break. Crews will continue working with air support to clean up contingency line in Divisions QQ and SS. A structure group began night patrols on this fire. The focus in Division WW is mop up and patrol around structures, anchoring at the containment line to work toward Division AA, where there was fire activity yesterday and overnight. Crews with air support are installing contingency line along the north edge of the fire using clippers to fell trees and dozers to clear the fuel break. Contingency firelines can be used to back up primary lines to increase probability of fire containment, decrease fire losses, and improve firefighter safety. A UAS (firefighting drone) is due to arrive today to support infrared mapping and aerial ignition. Smokes were visible yesterday in the area near Blacktail Road and in the unburned “island” in the middle of the fire. Firefighters today continue mopping up in Divisions QQ and SS, cleaning up contingency line and continuing line construction, moving toward Division PP. Fire officials are examining indirect attack options in Division PP. In Division YY, crews will continue building contingency line using roads and ridgetops.
Weather and Fuel Conditions: The predicted high temperature today is 81°F at 7500 feet elevation. Humidity may be as low as 14%. Winds will shift by this evening to the northwest, gusting up to 20 mph. Warmer conditions and lower relative humidity are expected through the weekend. These conditions coupled with increasing westerly winds will elevate fire weather conditions into Sunday night. There is increasing regional smoke.
American Fork Fire: The Park County Sheriff’s Office has Shields River Road in pre-evacuation status. Meagher County has done the same with the Smith Creek area. County roads in the area are open. However, there are still closures in the national forests.
Balsinger Fire: An evacuation order for Belt Park issued by the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office remains in place. There is a pre-evacuation order for the area from the Belt Creek Ranger Station to Monarch and from west of Monarch to the confluence of Pilgrim Creek and Belt Creek.
Woods Creek Fire: The Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office has issued an evacuation order covering everything east of Highway 284 between Gravely Lane in the north and Dry Gulch Road in the south. Ray Creek is on high alert. Highway 284 remains open. Effective August 11, residents of Upper Duck Creek Road, Upper Gurnett Creek Road, Upper Confederate Road, Ambush Drive, Battle Drive and from Upper Gurnett to White’s Gulch east and west of Highway 284 may return to their homes. The end of Dry Gulch, North, Middle and South Ray Creek Roads, Upper Cottonwood, North Fork and Log Cabin Road are still on pre-evacuation notice. A mandatory evacuation of six cabins and Big Birch Creek is in place. The Meagher County Sheriff’s Office issued a pre-evacuation notice for residents on Birky Road and Ramspeck Lane and for Grassy Mountain residents north of Highway 12.
Closures and Advisories:
Areas around the fires are closed for public safety. Please respect the closure signs.
Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) remain in place on all three fire areas. The TFR for the Woods Creek Fire now extends further to the north. TFR violations can disrupt aerial firefighting operations and may force fire managers to ground essential aircraft. Wildfires are a no-fly zone for unauthorized aircraft, including drones. If you fly, we can’t. http://knowbeforeyoufly.org.
Most of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest is in Stage 2 fire restrictions. There are also closure areas for the Balsinger and Woods Creek fires. See: https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/hlcnf/alerts-notices
Stage 1 fire restrictions remain in place for the Custer Gallatin National Forest. There is also a closure area for the American Fork fire. See: https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/custergallatin/alerts-notices