Helena - Lewis and Clark National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
2880 Skyway Drive
Helena, MT 59602
American Fork, Balsinger,and Woods Creek Fires Update
Sunday, August 15, 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: There is a red flag warning for fire weather today and Monday. Use caution to prevent new fire starts.
Current Situation: Dry, windy weather yesterday increased fire activity. Firefighters anticipated this change and there were no major fire runs. While smokes from the three fires are visible, much of the smoke in the area is coming from fires across Montana and further west. Air operations are limited due to poor visibility, but conditions are expected to improve this afternoon. Work continues today on securing existing containment lines, direct attack where feasible, and indirect attack where appropriate based on weather, fuels, and topography. Night patrols continue, staffing the fire around the clock.
American Fork Fire
Acreage: 20,187 | Containment: 58% | Start date: July 17, 2021 | Cause: Lightning | Personnel: 79
The American Fork Fire is burning in the central part of the Crazy Mountains, approximately 24 miles southwest of Harlowton, Montana. Fire activity has continued to increase south of Loco Mountain, along the north edge of the fire, and there was some westerly growth in the fire perimeter near the “fingers.” Crews today will work from Dugout Creek on existing roads to secure that edge. Hotshots constructed indirect line yesterday at the northwest edge in Division P, completing a piece of line from Target Rock. They also worked along the southern portion of Division P to tie in with containment line in Division A. Firefighters are working to protect structures, and agricultural and grazing land in this area, as well as the watershed, which supports a pure strain of Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Crews today will construct direct line toward Buck Creek Road and continue to use aviation resources to pick up hot spots and aid in structure protection. An engine will patrol the eastern edge in Divisions A and M checking for hot spots.
Acreage: 8,614 | Containment: 50% | Start date: July 9, 2021 | Cause: Lightning | Personnel: 155
The Balsinger Fire is burning approximately five miles west of Neihart, Montana. Most of the operation yesterday was on the south end of the fire in Division I. The fire remained in its footprint. Firefighters today will continue to work on the section of uncontained line in that division. One initial attack module worked on the uncontained portion of Division T yesterday and will continue today mopping up and securing that edge. Patrols continue near Monarch. The UAS (firefighting drone) scouted the north edge of the fire yesterday using infrared heat detection. Today, it will fly the northwest edge, then move to the northeast to identify any hot spots.
Woods Creek Fire
Acreage: 54,973 | Containment: 43% | Start date: July 10, 2021 | Cause: Lightning | Personnel: 602
The Woods Creek Fire is in the Big Belt Mountains, approximately 16 miles northeast of Townsend, Montana. Most of the fire activity yesterday was in the north end near the division break with AA. Firefighters continue to keep that in check. Work continues in that division today, finishing indirect line going north and adding some toward Division YY. Two additional hotshot crews will be in that area today, scouting opportunities for direct attack along the northern edge of the fire and building hand line anchored to the existing containment edge. Containment along the eastern edge is secure and will be patrolled today. Crews are working to contain the remaining line near Big Birch Creek, mopping up and protecting cabins in that area. Indirect line is now complete along the southwest edge of the fire near Windy Ridge and will be reinforced today. Fire officials are examining indirect attack options in Division PP. In Divisions QQ and SS, indirect line is complete. Today, crews will clear vegetation along that line. Smokes will be visible on this western edge, but firefighter preparation, prevailing winds, and limited fuels are keeping the fire in check. In Division WW the plan today is securing line by the break with Division SS and mopping up, using a dozer to support the two crews in that area. In Division YY, crews are working on contingency line, working toward Watson Meadow with a dozer.
Weather and Fuel Conditions: Today and tomorrow will be hot, dry, and windy. The predicted high temperature today is 80°F at 7500 feet elevation. Humidity may be as low as 13%. Strong ridgetop winds are expected, with gusts up to 20 mph. With several days of high temperatures and poor nighttime humidity recoveries, fuels are extremely dry. Some parts of the fires are making short runs, but they are limited by fine fuels and lack of wind alignment with the terrain. Cooler, wetter weather is forecast starting Tuesday.
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: Effective August 11, the Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office lifted the evacuation order covering everything east of Highway 284 between Gravely Lane in the north and Dry Gulch Road in the south. Highway 284 remains open. 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. All areas are currently in pre-evacuation. 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.
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
The Bureau of Land Management Butte and Lewiston Field Offices issued an area closure for lands affected by the Woods Creek Fire. See: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/article/7649/63667/