Firefighters today were fighting two lightning-caused fires in the Bear Paw Mountains, as National Weather Service has issued a fire alert for tonight and Friday in the region.
Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Joe Parenteau said this morning that the first fire, named the Thackeray Fire on the old Web Thackeray place and burning east of Bear Paw Lake, started when lightning struck a hilltop Tuesday night, starting a tree on fire. Pine cones were ignited and rolled down the hill, causing it to spread, he said.
The second fire is farther south in the Bear Paws, and has been named the Grabofsky Fire. It started Wednesday, Parenteau said.
“So they are fighting both of those today, ” he said.
The Bear Paw Volunteer Fire Department is the lead agency in both fires. Parenteau said all departments in the region are on alert, and volunteer fire departments including St. Joe and Wildhorse and the Chinook Fire Department are giving assistance. A Facebook entry last night said the Rocky Boy Fire Department is helping with providing water.
Parenteau said the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation also is assisting, sending a strike team Wednesday to help fight the fire and a DNRC helicopter was planning to drop water on the Thackeray Fire, which is on land owned by the Montana State University Extension Agency, and to help assess and possibly do water drops on the Grabofsky fire.
Parenteau said that firefighters had cut backbreaks around 75 percent of that fire by last night, and were expected to finish cutting lines around the fire today. Three Caterpillars were being used to cut the backbreaks, he said.
He said he did not have any information on the size of the Grabofsky fire.
Parenteau said this morning that the last information he had received on the Thackeray Fire was that it was about 115 acres today.
The fire was in heavy timber, but the trees were still fairly green and had fair moisture, so the fire was not burning as rapidly as it could have.
Both fires are in locations where the firefighters are having difficulty accessing the blaze, he said.
Parenteau had little specific information about the Grabofsky fire as of this morning.
National Weather Service issued a release this morning stating that as a cold front moves into the region this afternoon and tonight, it will be preceded by very warm and dry conditions along with breezy southwest winds.
A few isolated thunderstorms, some of which will be dry, are expected Thursday night. Gusty west winds and much cooler temperatures are expected on Friday and temperatures will be cooler, however humidity will fall to near 20 percent at most locations Friday afternoon.
New fires from lightning strikes are possible, and the dry, windy conditions could lead to rapid fire growth.