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Three small fires burning on Flathead Indian Reservation

By B.L. Azure

The Flathead Indian Reservation and much of western Montana has been under a smoky haze for the last couple of weeks. Most of the smoke is emanating from fires in the Bitterroot Valley and the Idaho panhandle. (B.L. Azure photo) The Flathead Indian Reservation and much of western Montana has been under a smoky haze for the last couple of weeks. Most of the smoke is emanating from fires in the Bitterroot Valley and the Idaho panhandle. (B.L. Azure photo)

RONAN — The Flathead Indian Reservation and much of western Montana has been under a smoky haze for the last couple of weeks or so. There are three relatively small fires burning on the reservation but they are only a very minor contributor to the smoke that envelope the area. Large fires in the Bitterroot Valley and the Idaho panhandle are the major contributors of the hazy smoke blanket that is unhealthy to all but particularly to the elderly, youth and folks with respiratory problems.

The three fires on the reservation were all lightning caused. They are in the White Horse Lake area in the South Fork Jocko Tribal Primitive Area; in the Schley area near Evaro; and in the Molman Pass area near Ronan.

Curtiss Matt, Division of Fire Prevention and Information Officer said the fires are burning in high altitude steep and rocky terrain areas and are being monitored by helicopter borne crews daily.

“The Molman fire picked up a bit today,” Matt said Tuesday of the fire that has consumed 88 acres. “It has been picking up each day around 2 p.m. It is active and spreading low.”

The fire and smoke can be seen in the Ronan area.

“The Schley fire is relatively active,” Matt said. It has burned approximately 65 acres as of Tuesday.

“The White Horse fire continues to be active due to the dry atmosphere and southwest winds. They have pushed the fire down slope and are starting spot fires,” Matt said. The fire has consumed 330 acres near Marmot Lake, the Neil Charlo Slew and Floyd Lake and has resulted in a road closure at the Floyd Lake and Louie Lake roads junction.

“All the fires are in high elevation areas and pose no danger to people or structures,” Matt said. “We are monitoring them but not staffing them due to safety concerns. They were all lightning caused and we are monitoring them daily.”

The DOF has one 20-person crew dispatched to the Plains area for a fire in a “really dry area,” Matt said.

Matt said fall fires, in his opinion, are the worst type to get a handle on. “Fall fires are like rattlesnakes in August that are losing their skin. They lie dormant and bite without a warning,” Matt said. “Fall fires rest at night and start up again in the day or they lie dormant for days before reigniting. Summer fires burn hot and consume the fuels. Fall fires are different. They, like the shedding snakes, lie dormant then bite. At times you can’t get a handle on them until Mother Nature chips in with fall rains and snowfall.”

Matt said people should exercise extreme caution when in the backcountry because of the extremely dry condition of fuels all over the reservation. The fire season is not the relatively short July-to-late-September seasons of the past. This year fires began in January — in the midst of winter — and are still going.

For more fire information, call DOF at 676-2550.

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