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The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office issued pre-evacuation notices for a wildfire burning northwest of Helena Sunday, while Smokejumpers dropped in on another blaze north of Helena on the Beartooth Wildlife Management Area.

Firefighters faced red flag warning conditions for critical fire weather Sunday due to high temperatures, high winds and low relative humidity that stoked area fires ignited by Saturday evening thunderstorms.

The 467 Trail fire is burning along a ridge in the south fork of Poorman Creek, southwest of Granite Butte Lookout. The lookout is about 28 miles northwest of Helena. The fire was sized at 20 acres Sunday afternoon.

At 2 p.m. Sheriff Leo Dutton issued pre-evacuation notices to residents in the McQuithy Gulch and Marsh Creek area due to the red flag warning. No one has been formally evacuated and the notices affect nine address points, he said.

The U.S. Forest Service ordered additional resources Sunday, including helicopters, a Hot Shot fire crew and some heavier equipment. The strategy is to suppress the fire in all areas where it is safe to do so.

Fire officials said Sunday morning that another fire burning in a remote section of the Beartooth Wildlife Management Area is a cause for concern. The 125-acre Shellrock fire is burning in heavy timber on both state and private lands in Cascade County about 17 miles east of Wolf Creek. The fire produced a sizeable plume Sunday that could be seen from Helena.

“It has potential because it’s so high, it’s really remote and it’s going quite quickly,” said Martin Balukas, public information officer with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Six Smokejumpers jumped onto the fire Sunday morning, he said. Officials wanted to drop more Smokejumpers but winds made the jump unsafe. They hoped to put a total of 14 on the fire either Sunday evening or Monday morning.

DNRC has ordered an incident management team for the Shellrock fire expected to be on location sometime Monday.

“Because it’s in heavy timber, we’re expecting more hot dry weather, it’s in a hard place to get to and a hard place to control it, we’re thinking it’ll be a long term commitment,” Balukas said.

The forecast calls for continued heat and wind.

Firefighters responded to other fire starts Saturday and Sunday, but little information was available by Sunday evening for two of the fires.

  • The Cuniff fire is burning about five miles south of Bean Lake on the Rocky Mountain Front and is under the jurisdiction of DNRC. Balukas did not have additional details.
  • The Meadow Creek fire sparked about 15 miles east of Lincoln. That fire is in the vicinity of state mine cleanup underway at the old Mike Horse Mine as well as a water treatment plant, but information was unavailable as to whether anything was threatened.
  • The fire sparked in the area of Glass Drive in Helena’s North Valley Saturday evening sent up a highly visible plume of smoke to the east of the interstate but was under control by Sunday, Balukas said.
  • Firefighters also put out a small fire in the Dump Gulch area near Clancy Saturday, he said.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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