Rain quells area fires

A good shot of rain over the weekend quieted what looked like the beginning of southwestern Montana’s fire season.

The Rumsey Gulch fire outside of Philipsburg is contained as of this weekend.

“Things are looking good,” said Leona Rodreick with the Forest Service dispatch center in Dillon. “Crews are mopping up hotspots now.”

After a tree fell on a power line, the forest fire sparked on May 13 and burned close to 350 acres in a week. The fire was reported at around 6 p.m. on May 13. Fast winds aided the fire to spread quickly.

Fire continues to smolder, but crews have sent some firefighters home and are now working on creating fire lines and have shifted into patrol mode where the fire is monitored rather than actively fought.

Residents were allowed to return to their homes as crews battled the remaining flames. About twenty homes were evacuated during fire. The fire destroyed five homes in Rumsey Gulch and threatened homes in Summer Gulch.

Crews also contained a fire west of Wise River last week. The fire was caused by a tree falling on a power line and burned 33 acres of grass, brush and pines before being contained. No structures were burned in that fire.

A wildfire 20 miles northeast of Helena continues to burn and remains under investigation.  It is suspected that the fire was human-caused. So far, the blaze has consumed 430 acres and is close to containment. Nelson Road was reopened on Sunday.

Officials have predicted a bad fire season based on current drought conditions and the lack of snow pack in the mountains.

As of the end of April, parts of southwestern Montana were declared to be in a severe drought. Soil moisture in this part of the state is near record lows.

The national forecast predicts an above normal wildland fire risk in southwestern Montana and northern Idaho. The predictions call for the fire season to start a month earlier than usual in Montana, Oregon, central Idaho and southern Washington. In these areas, national officials predict the fire season to be at its worst during July and August.

National cutbacks could affect the resources available to fight this summer’s wildfires.

According to Rodreick, this weekend’s rain showers will help to delay the start of the fire season momentarily.

“It’s helpful right now,” said Rodreick. “But it’s not going to save us. We could use more moisture. That’s for sure.”

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