Gusty winds whipped to life a 19-day-old controlled burn near Canyon Ferry Reservoir Monday afternoon, a testimony to the dry conditions in the area.
Bob Drake, chief of the Tri-Lakes Fire Department, said it was only the team effort and the grace of God that kept the fire on Viscaya Road to only five acres. He noted that ironically, the homeowner was burning trees killed in the 2000 Bucksnort fire, in which 15,000 acres was consumed by wildfire, including a house on Viscaya.
“We’re still dealing with the Bucksnort fire 13 years later,” Drake said. “This was a great team effort. We hit it hard and were able to catch it.”
He said Tri-Lakes initially responded after the call of a wildland fire came in at 5:45 p.m.
“It was about two acres and growing, so I called in a first alarm wildland fire,” he said. “The chiefs had talked earlier in the day about hitting anything hard and to get crews on it.”
The first alarm call meant that crews from East Valley, West Valley, York, Lewis and Clark County, Baxendale, and Eastgate volunteer fire departments, as well as initial attack crews from the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the Helena National Forest, all were sent to the scene. The DNRC also dispatched a helicopter to drop buckets of water on the blaze, but Drake said it was too windy for the Blackhawk to land and hook up its bucket.
“But we were able to stop the forward progress of the fire with the trucks and held it at bay,” Drake said at 9 p.m. “We’re still working on it; right now we’re tearing apart the (slash) pile with a skidster.”
He cautioned people to be careful with fires and sparks, and noted that the sheriff’s ban on open burning remains in place. It was instituted on Friday due to the lack of moisture.
“It’s amazing how dry it is and people don’t realize it,” Drake said. “Nineteen days — almost three weeks later — and this thing is blown to life. People need to be careful.”
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron
@helenair.com Follow Eve on Twitter @IR_EveByron