The Deep Creek Canyon fire between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs burning since June 13 is now 48% contained, U.S. Forest officials said Sunday, noting firefighters “continue to make great progress mopping up hot spots” along the perimeter.
“Crews are being assisted by heavy equipment and more favorable weather conditions,” officials said of the blaze that is now a week old. Earlier in the day officials reported the fire was 15% contained.
They said there was minimal fire activity Saturday with the wind pushing the fire back into previously burned areas. This helped firefighters secure more of the fire's perimeter. Officials said Sunday-morning rain was expected to taper off in the evening. The size of the blaze remained at 4,648 acres, which is about what it has been at since Friday. The fire has spread northeast and south of U.S. Highway 12 in the Deep Creek Canyon area.
"Smoldering and creeping best describe (today's) fire activity," officials said Sunday, adding 0.20 to 0.40 inches of rain fell across the fire Sunday morning with temperatures in the 50s and humidity in the 60s.
“Today good progress is being made in many areas, and with that we expect to see containment increase steadily as crews continue to mop up,” forest service officials wrote in an email. They said areas with “continuous fuels will require additional attention over the coming days."
They noted Monday is expected to warm up and dry out quickly with temperatures back into the low 70s and humidity into the low 20s with terrain-driven winds.
July 1 remains the estimated containment date.
The cost to fight the fire so far is listed at $3.11 million, three people have been injured and three residences and four other structures have been destroyed. The number of people assigned to the blaze dipped slightly Sunday from 462 to 460. Eight engines, six helicopters and two other air attack pieces of equipment, 11 hand crews, six water tenders and six bulldozers were on the scene.
Vigilante Electric Cooperative, which provides power to the area, estimated a “power on” date possibly as early as Sunday night or Monday morning.
The forest service said aircraft so far have dropped 280,000 gallons of water and 24,000 gallons of retardant on the fire. They said minimal spread was expected Sunday.
The landscape consists of heavy timber in drainage bottoms and some meadows in the upper slopes, as well as rocky areas with vegetation, fire officials said.
An evacuation order for the Grassy Mountain Subdivision area was lifted at 8 a.m. Saturday. Roughly 60 homes in the Grassy Mountain Subdivision and about 130 residents of the Springdale Hutterite Colony were evacuated after the fire jumped U.S. Highway 12 Tuesday.
Vigilante Electric Cooperative said it has 19 people working to get the line rebuilt.
“We had over 3 miles of line destroyed that needed to be replaced,” it said, noting the steep terrain which is rugged in spots.
“We have 58 structures that we need to set either by hand or with equipment when the individual sites can be accessed,” it stated in the forest service email.
It said it has about one-third of the structures set and is "expecting a good day today with it being a little cooler and we had a specialty pole setting skidder delivered.”
The fire started about 3:45 p.m. June 13 about 18 miles east of Townsend. The forest service said the cause is still under investigation, but Broadwater County Sheriff Wynn Meehan said last week it was believed to be caused by a down power line. Highway 12 between Townsend and White Sulphur Springs is open, but there is a 35 mph speed limit. Travelers should expect delays.
For more information on the fire, call the information line between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at 406-272-6349. Mike Goicoechea of the U.S. Forest Service is the incident commander.
Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.