UPDATE 2:30 p.m. Monday:
Fire crews expect to have the Rattlesnake fire fully contained by early Tuesday morning.
State fire officials on Monday reported the four-day-old wildfire burning outside Canyon Creek, roughly 30 miles northwest of Helena, was 90 percent contained.
Officials say the once 900-acre blaze has shrunk by more than one-third since Saturday morning, gains they credited in part to the wet weather. The lightning-caused fire started early Thursday evening at the Triple 8 Ranch and grew quickly under shifting wind conditions that pushed the flames through grass and timber along dry, steep-sided gulches.
Aided by aerial infrared scans, firefighters on Sunday discovered a hotspot in an “old livestock holding” just above a cabin. Fire crews, water tenders and a bulldozer continued work to cool off the area on Labor Day.
“Yesterday crews made great progress extinguishing hot spots and mopping-up,” Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokeswoman Crystal Beckman wrote in a Monday fire update. “Timbered areas in Rattlesnake Gulch provided for plenty of work as the larger fuels (timber) hold heat longer than grass and brush.”
Six fire engines, one 20-person handcrew and a helicopter have departed since the fire reached its peak.
Firefighters with a pair of state and federal agencies have joined their counterparts from Canyon Creek and Lewis and Clark County to battle the blaze.
Rattlesnake Gulch Road, Canyon Creek Wildlife Management Area and the Sieben Block Management Area all remain closed as a result of the incident.
UPDATE 5 p.m.: Under a red flag warning across south central Montana, the Rattlesnake fire burning near Canyon Creek grew to about 900 acres on Friday and triggered some area closures.
The lightning-cause fire sparked at about 6 p.m. Thursday on the Triple 8 Ranch with erratic winds quickly pushing the blaze to 350 acres. High winds and low humidity continued to hammer the area on Friday, pushing the fire through grass and timbered draws as fire crews from Lewis and Clark County, DNRC and the U.S. Forest Service responded.
No structures were burned and no evacuations were ordered. Residents living on Chevalier Drive to the east were notified by deputies, according to an update from the county dispatch center.
With Montana’s archery hunting season opening Saturday morning, the Rattlesnake fire triggered a pair of closures from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The Canyon Creek Wildlife Management Area and Sieben Block Management Area are closed until further notice.
Rattlesnake Gulch Road is also closed due to the fire.
By 5 p.m. Friday the cloudy weather caused the Rattlesnake fire to its progress. The Rattlesnake fire was 10 percent contained as of Friday evening, according to DNRC.
“Things are going good – activity has not picked up significantly,” said Crystal Beckman, DNRC information officer. “We’re still using air resources to drop on hot spots in the interior in timber draws. It’s minimal smoke right now and things are looking pretty good with no significant growth.”
Fire crews were setting up camp ahead of Labor Day Weekend making plans for the weekend, she said. Nearly 90 fire personnel are on scene along with 15 fire engines and two helicopters. Air tankers are available if needed.
The red flag warning expired at 6 p.m. Friday.
Forecasts call for cool and wet weather starting Sunday, with up to one inch of rain in the Helena Valley and mountain snow down to 6,000 feet.
UPDATE 1:45 p.m.: The Rattlesnake fire burning near Canyon Creek has grown to 900 acres Friday afternoon with high potential for continued fire growth.
The area is under red flag warning due to critical fire weather. Forecasts call for high winds and low humidity from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m. Friday.
Fire crews from Lewis and Clark County, the U.S. Forest Service and DNRC are on scene.
The Canyon Creek Wildlife Management Area and Sieben Block Management Area are closed as a result of the fire.
Big Sawmill Road and Rattlesnake Gulch Road are also closed.
UPDATE 9:30 a.m.: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks implemented an immediate emergency closure of the Canyon Creek Wildlife Management Area northwest of Helena Friday due to the threat from the Rattlesnake fire burning nearby.
The Canyon Creek WMA is closed to all public occupation, hunting, and recreation until further notice.
The Sieben Black Management Area is also closed.
The department will reopen the WMA and BMA when it is considered safe.
The fire was driven by high winds and dry fuels, mainly grass, sagebrush and some light timber, according to an update from city/county dispatch. The fire started just southeast of the barn on the Triple 8 Ranch and moved toward Rattlesnake Gulch and Chevalier Canyon.
No structures have been burned and no evacuations have been ordered.
Road blocks were requested at Big Sawmill Road and Rattlesnake Gulch Road, and they have remained in place all night. The fire laid down for the night, but high winds are expected for Friday.
Residents living on Chevalier Drive have been notified of the fire, dispatch says.
If the fire continues northeast there should not be any structures in the way, according to dispatch.
As of Friday morning, the main concerns are smoke over the roadways that may cause dangerous conditions for motorists, possible fire threats to homes in the area should weather and fire conditions change, and road blocks and traffic control in some areas due to fire apparatus moving in and out.
Emergency crews are asking the public to avoid the area if possible.
BREAKING: A wildfire sparked northwest of Helena late Thursday evening, quickly burning about 300 acres and sending smoke across the north Helena Valley.
The Rattlesnake fire is burning near the Triple 8 Ranch about five miles northwest of Canyon Creek. Erratic winds are driving the fire and producing considerable smoke, said DNRC Helena Unit Manager John Huston.
Fire crews from across the Helena Valley and three DNRC engines were on the scene by dusk.
A single DNRC helicopter provided water dumps, but the fire started too late in the day to order a bomber retardant dump, Huston said.
No structures were threatened Thursday, and Huston was not aware of any evacuations. With winds driving the fire, the threats could quickly change, he said.
Fire crews planned to continue to work the fire throughout the night.
Check helenair.com for updates on the fire.