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Stage 1 fire restrictions in effect on Flathead Reservation

By B.L. Azure

The West Garceau Fire continues to smolder after eight days near Garceau Gulch and Irvine Flats. State officials reported that 60 fires have been man-caused since the firefighting season began earlier this year. Officials believe that this fire was also man-caused by sparks from farm machinery. (Kim Swaney photo) The West Garceau Fire continues to smolder after eight days near Garceau Gulch and Irvine Flats. State officials reported that 60 fires have been man-caused since the firefighting season began earlier this year. Officials believe that this fire was also man-caused by sparks from farm machinery. (Kim Swaney photo)

RONAN — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire announced Tuesday that the Flathead Indian Reservation is in a “Red Flag Alert” status. As a result the Tribal Council imposed Stage I fire restrictions effective Wednesday, August 22 that affect all tribal, state and federal land holdings within the exterior boundaries of the reservation. The Stage 1 restrictions will be in effect until officially rescinded by the Tribal Council.

The portions of Flathead, Missoula and Sanders counties landholdings not on the Flathead Reservation are not in Stage I restrictions status — just the on-reservation portions are.

The on-reservation exemptions include all property within municipal boundaries as well as fires used for tribal cultural purposes such as a sweat lodge, meat drying and hide tanning, and petroleum-fueled camp stoves.

Further exemptions include people with a written permit that specifically authorizes the otherwise prohibited act, and people conducting activities in designated areas where activity is specifically authorized by written posted notice. (See sidebar)

There are three fires burning on the reservation, said Curt Matt, DOF fire prevention specialist. They include the West Garceau Fire, the Valley Creek Fire and the Perma Ridge Fire. The U.S. Forest Service is managing the West Garceau Fire and the CSKT DOF is managing the Valley Creek and Perma fires.

The Valley Creek Fire, approximately 20 miles southwest of Arlee, has consumed 27 acres as of Tuesday afternoon. There are two DOF wildfire fighter crews with a total of 55 people manning the fire. There are three fire engines and a tree trimmer machine on site. The fire is 20-percent contained.

“We have a dozer line around the fire that we are now working to improve it,” Matt said.

The Perma Ridge Fire, approximately 10 miles west of Dixon, has consumed 325 acres of grassland and timberland. There are two Type 2 crews consisting of 32 wildfire fighters and 10 equipment operators manning the fire. There are two fire engines, two skidgines and one cat on site.

Matt said the DOF hoped to have the fire contained by Wednesday.

A couple of weeks ago the reservation looked like it would dodge the fire bullet but that all changed with the West Garceau Fire. Now there is concern about stretched thin wildfire fighting crews.

“We could use more firefighters,” he said, adding that wildfire fighters from Fort Belknap, Crow and Rocky Boy’s Indian reservations as well as the Lolo Hot Shots crews are assisting in the containment and extinguishment effort.

The West Garceau Fire continues to burn in the Salish Mountains, near Garceau Gulch and Irvine Flats, approximately 15 miles west of Polson. It was reported around 5:45 p.m. Monday, August 13. The cause remains under investigation.

Crews and equipment, with critical support from air operations, continue to make headway establishing containment lines around the fire. Heavy fuels and steep terrain continue to hamper suppression efforts, especially along the southern flanks of the fire.

The U.S. Forest Service is the in charge of the Garceau firefighting effort. As of Tuesday there were 294 wildfire fighters manning the fire that has consumed 9,431 acres of grassland, and forested land and the vegetation understory. It was 55-percent contained and the USFS estimates that containment would occur Friday evening, August 24.

Crews completed some burnout operations along the southern flank of the fire that were critical in helping to secure the fire line. Elsewhere around the fire, crews were able to successfully hold and improve other fire lines.

Some initial mop-up activities began Tuesday, and crews will begin to establish hose-lay along the western and southern fire line.

Matt said the reservation and vicinity weather forecast includes lightning strikes.

For more information or to report a fire, contact Division of Fire at 676-2550.

Stage 1 Fire Restrictions:
• No building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire.* The following actions are permitted: petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns, or heating devices providing such devices meet the fire underwriter’s specification for safety.
• No smoking unless in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.
• No operation welding, acetylene, or other torch with an open flame.
• No operation or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order.

Exemptions:
• Persons with a permit specifically authorizing the prohibited act or omission.
• Resident owners and leasers of land within the restricted area are exempt from above restriction provided such fires are within the residence.
• Any federal, state, tribal or local officer or member of an organized firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.

*A stove fire is defined as a campfire built inside an enclosed stove or grill, portable brazier, or a pressurized liquid or gas stove, including a space-heating device.

Stage 2 Fire Restrictions:
• No building, maintaining, attending or using open fire, campfires or stove fires.
• No smoking unless in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or within a three foot diameter cleared to mineral soil.
• No operation welding, acetylene, or other torch with an open flame.
• No operation or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order.

Exemptions:
• Persons with a permit specifically authorizing the prohibited act or omission.
• Resident owners and leasers of land within the restricted area are exempt from above restriction provided such fires are within the residence.
• Any Federal, State or Local Officer or member of an organized firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.

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