Critical fire weather spurred the Alice Creek fire burning northeast of Lincoln Monday, causing a large plume that could be seen from Helena.
Officials predicted that winds combined with low relative humidity and record dry fuel would have the potential to create very active fire behavior and rapid spread. By Monday evening, that forecast came to fruition.
"The Alice Creek fire is actively burning on the eastern flank a this time, 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 11," the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest reported. "Highway 200 remains open at this time, but travelers are advised to visit the Montana Department of Transportation website for highway updates."
Firefighters were faced with predicted "red flag" conditions meaning critical fire weather prevailed over the fire throughout the day. High winds measured 15-20 miles per hour, gusting up to 30-40 miles per hour.
Officials were concerned that the winds could make it dangerous to use aircraft to fight the fire.
Despite the windy conditions, Sunday night firefighters saw relatively calm fire behavior. Silver King Lake and the Continental Divide near the evacuated Elk Meadows subdivision were the main areas of concern.
On Monday, those same areas became active when weather conditions, terrain and fuel aligned to cause active fire behavior.
"With many critical fire behavior elements lining up, the potential for dangerous fire behavior exists. Firefighters remain vigilant for what is known as a 'heads-up day,'" the incident management team said in its Monday morning update. "Firefighters on the ground will remain in the fire area as long as it is safe to do so. If fire conditions become too risky, personnel will be pulled off the line to reevaluate the situation. Firefighter and public safety remains of utmost concern."
Along Highway 200 in the fire area, and along Highway 435 at the Hoon Incident Command Post, Montana Department of Transportation has issued a temporary 35 mile-per-hour speed limit for the safety of fire crews and motorists in the area. Authorities ask motorists to drive cautiously in these areas as slow moving equipment and firefighters may be on the road at any time.
Mandatory evacuations remain in effect for residents between mile marker 92 near the Dearborn River's crossing of Highway 200 and Highway 434 -- along highway 200 on both sides of the road. Elk Meadows/Evergreen subdivisions are under mandatory evacuation notices. Landers Fork, Elk Trail Park and the Alice Creek communities are under a “pre-evacuation” notice.