Helena - Lewis and Clark National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
2880 Skyway Drive
Helena, MT 59602
American Fork, Balsinger, and Woods Creek Fires Update
Tuesday, August 17, 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 Note: A virtual community meeting will be held on Facebook Live this evening at 8:00pm. Join us with your questions at https://bit.ly/WoodsCkBalsingerAmForkFires
Current Situation: Windy, dry conditions yesterday brought active fire behavior. There were smokes near fire lines and spots over the lines in some places. Despite this activity, firefighters increased containment on two of the fires and kept all new spots contained. Today brings a cold front with gusty winds and the potential for rain. Work continues today on securing existing containment lines, direct attack where feasible, and constructing and clearing indirect and contingency lines. Night patrols continue, staffing the fire around the clock. Helicopters flew 53 hours yesterday, supporting crews on the ground. Today, they hope to get the two fixed-wing air attack platforms up with the clearer skies.
American Fork Fire
Acreage: 20,741 | Containment: 57% | 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. This fire got the strongest winds yesterday and the northern edge was especially active. Firefighters constructed direct line in Division M, working east from Crandall Creek toward Dugout Creek. Today, fire weather will be similar to yesterday before the cold front passes through. Crews will work along the north edge, anchoring from the containment line near Crandall Creek and pushing east to Shields River Road. There is interior fire activity near Lebo Peak, burning toward the Blacktail Fire scar, which provides a natural barrier to further spread. The south end of the fire also had some interior burning near Buck Creek. In Division P, firefighters are using direct attack to contain the remaining line near Buck Creek. Today, crews will construct direct line southeast of River Road working toward Buck Creek Road. The fire slopped over yesterday in a timber stringer in Division A. Dozer line was already in place and crews will put out the spot today.
Acreage: 8,614 | Containment: 68% | Start date: July 9, 2021 | Cause: Lightning | Personnel: 128
The Balsinger Fire is in the Little Belt Mountains, approximately five miles west of Neihart, Montana. Firefighters increased containment yesterday in the northeast part of the fire in Division T and at the southwest in Division I. The plan today is to secure, mop up, and patrol these areas. Firefighters will concentrate today and tomorrow on the southern edge, working to contain the remaining line. There was a spot fire yesterday to the east in Division I that firefighters contained. Crews today will hike in south of Thunder Mountain to put out a hot spot on the northern edge.
Woods Creek Fire
Acreage: 55,834 | Containment: 47% | Start date: July 10, 2021 | Cause: Lightning | Personnel: 526
The Woods Creek Fire is burning in the Big Belt Mountains, approximately 16 miles northeast of Townsend, Montana. A hotshot crew continues direct attack in Division AA, working south from the containment line along the North Fork of Elk Creek. Contingency line is in place in this division, tied into the break with Division YY. Crews started on a smaller section of alternate line along Cement Gulch and Lucky Gulch. Crews continue to patrol, mop up, and secure the containment line along the eastern edge of the fire and are working to contain the hot spot near Big Birch Creek, which hasn’t moved but is still hot. At the southeast edge near Russell Fork Deep Creek, the fire pushed to the east yesterday, but crews were able to keep it in check with dozer line. Northerly winds today could push the fire south in Divisions SS and QQ but firefighters have constructed, and continue to improve, indirect line along that edge of the fire. In Division SS they are completing chipping operations and the safety zone today. In Division YY, another hotshot crew is constructing direct line to the east, working toward Division AA, with a third hotshot crew in-between. They are improving the indirect contingency line along the north edge of the fire, tied into Watson Meadow.
Weather and Fuel Conditions: This morning will be dry and windy before the predicted cold front arrives in the late morning to afternoon over the Balsinger and Woods Creek Fires, then later in the day over the American Fork Fire. The high temperature will be 67°F at 7500 feet elevation. Winds will be out of the north, with gusts up to 30 mph, especially near the American Fork Fire. Windy conditions and dry fuels will keep fire behavior active until the rains arrive. Strong northerly winds may align with hot spots, driving potential fire runs. Tomorrow, the forecast is for continued rain showers and even cooler temperatures.
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. 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/