Havre Daily News/Tim Leeds
Smoke looms Thursday behind land charred by the Thackeray Fire south of Havre in the Bear Paw Mountains, east of Bear Paw Lake. Firefighters today said the fire is close to 75 percent contained, and a Bear Paw rancher said this morning that the Grabofsky Fire farther south in the mountains was nearly out.
The head of a state firefighting strike team battling a blaze south of Havre said this morning that the fire is close to under control, and he is optimistic the firefighters will maintain that control despite a forecast warning of high fire conditions.
“We’re really looking in pretty good shape today, ” Don Pyrah of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said.
Pyrah is at the Thackeray Fire about 15 to 20 miles south of Havre east of Bear Paw Lake, on Montana State Agricultural Experiment Station Northern Agricultural Research Center land at the former Web Thackeray place.
Another fire, deeper south in the Bear Paws, also had a favorable assessment as of Thursday afternoon, said Pyrah, who is only working on the Thackeray Fire.
Bear Paw rancher David Molitor said this morning that that fire, called the Grabofsky Fire, was nearly out.
The fire burned two or three acres, just east of Beaver Creek Park near Moony’s Coulee and Quarter Mile Gulch, Molitor said, in a location that was extremely difficult to get to.
“We just want to say thank you to all of the people who responded, ” Molitor added, saying the large number of people who helped in both the Grabofsky and Thackeray fires were crucial in getting any control over the blazes.
The St. Joe and Wildhorse volunteer fire departments and the Chinook Fire Department were among the people who helped with that fire.
Lightning apparently started both fires, with the Thackeray Fire starting Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, and the Grabofsky Fire starting the next night.
National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for north-central and central Montana as a cold air mass moves into the region, bringing gusty winds. The humidity percentages will stay low, from the teens to 20s. That, along with a chance of thunderstorms with little rainfall, could create dangerous fire conditions, Weather Service reports.
The Weather Service forecast for Havre calls for a high of 71 and a low of 40 and winds from 24 mph to 28 mph and gusts in the high 30s. It calls for a 30 percent chance of showers today with the chance of rain decreasing through the night.
Pyrah said he is optimistic the firefighters will be able to keep the Thackeray Fire under control despite the forecast winds.
“That’s one of the reasons that we’re still hitting here today on this fire, ” he added. “We just want to make sure it doesn’t escape containment today on us with the forecast. ”
He said along with the Bear Paw Volunteer Fire Department and the DNRC team, firefighters from Kremlin and Gildford and a state mutual aid firefighting strike team from New Mexico have fought the Thackeray Fire, and teams from the Bureau of Land Management also assisted.
BLM sent a helicopter Thursday that helped assess and drop water on the Thackeray Fire and also flew over the Grabofsky Fire to do an assessment.
That flyover returned a favorable report, Pyrah said, with the BLM helicopter crew saying the efforts at the Grabofsky Fire looked good.
He estimated that at least 75 people had responded to the Thackeray Fire.
Pyrah said the firefighters will continue to work on the fire, which includes mopping up on the perimeter and keeping an eye on hot spots.
“At this point, I’d probably call it 75 percent contained, ” he said. “If we make it through the day, we’re going to be in really, really good shape, ” he said.