Several fires burning in the Flathead National Forest grew slightly over the weekend and will continue burning for weeks, even as suppression efforts are pared back and crews demobilized.
The 2,750-acre Big Salmon Lake fire and the 1,350-acre Hammer Creek fire both are burning in the Spotted Bear Ranger District of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The fires spread Sunday and Monday due to strong winds, warm temperatures and low humidity.
Melissa Wilson, public information officer for the Flathead National Forest, said incident commanders predicted both fires would continue to grow late Monday before Tuesday's moderate temperatures and increased humidity decelerate the flames.
"Over the weekend, both fires moderate-to-low growth in terms of expanding the perimeter, but there was active interior burning," Wilson said. "But they did not show the kind of dramatic jumps in size that we saw last week."
The South Fork Lost Creek Fire grew to 1,215 acres Sunday as the fire burned actively along the east flank, with isolated torching, short runs and spotting near the headwaters of the South Fork of Lost Creek.
The fire showed little activity Monday, however, and officials started downsizing the 140-member firefighting crew, which has worked the fire since it was reported Aug. 13.
Pat Cross, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said Monday's team shrank to 106 personnel, though the fire will likely continue burning into October. He estimated it is about 35 percent contained.
Crews will continue to monitor the human-caused blaze and mop up its southern flank, where a recent burnout occurred.
"Today has been real quiet," Cross said Monday evening. "The wind is kicking up, but I haven't seen any smoke come over the hill, so we're gearing up to demobilize most of the operation."
The fire has cost $1.7 million to fight and has forced road and trail closures in the area. They include: Alpine Trail No. 7, Trail No. 101, Trail No. 101A, Trail No. 86, Trail No. 108, Road No. 680 and Road No. 5206.
"One of the roads is so bad with rolling debris we call it the bowling alley," Cross said. "It's burning in very steep terrain."
The remaining crew will include one helicopter and one engine, Cross said. The main objective is to prevent the fire from spreading west or south.
"It's OK if it moves into that Spotted Bear country," he said.
Cross predicted the fire will continue to put up columns of smoke that are visible in the Flathead Valley until October.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.