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Fire near Wolf Creek doubles to 600 acres; lower Holter Reservoir closed

Fire near Wolf Creek doubles to 600 acres; lower Holter Reservoir closed

Volunteers took to the water to assist officials on the Bray fire near Wolf Creek on Tuesday, helping close lower Holter Reservoir to boaters as specially designed bombers scooped water.

Officials closed the main body of Holter Reservoir from Oxbow Bend to Holter Dam, a distance of five miles, as Bombardier 415 Superscooper firefighting tankers worked the 600-acre fire, which doubled in size since Monday. The tankers, based in Ontario, Canada, can carry 1,600 to 2,000 gallons each and reload by skimming the surface of the water.

Fire crews were expecting the Superscoopers, but not until Wednesday, said Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton. Tuesday’s arrival meant that officials needed to clear the lake early, and they enlisted the help of three volunteers to boat up to the closure and warn anyone attempting to enter the area.

The sheriff’s office also had two boats and two Jet Skis enforcing the closure, he said.

“It’s generally not something we do, but they (tankers) came a little earlier than we were expecting and we had probably 30 to 40 minutes,” Dutton said.

Wolf Creek Fire Chief Rocky Infanger recruited the local volunteers, he said. The volunteers communicated via cellphone and were not “in harm’s way,” Dutton said, adding that operations went smoothly.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be on Holter Wednesday to assist with the closure, Dutton said.

Access to the lake made use of the tankers possible, said DNRC fire information officer Crystal Beckman.

“It definitely helped with the areas burning in the interior of the fire,” she said.

Winds continued to push the fire to the north-northwest, Beckman said.

“The wind has not died down and fire activity has continued to progress the fire,” she said.

Forecasts for Wednesday and Thursday call for continued dry weather with no precipitation, Beckman said.

The Bray fire 5 miles east of Wolf Creek and the 5-acre Timber Hills fire near Craig were reported Sunday afternoon. The Timber Hills fire was 100 percent contained on Tuesday.

Residents on the north side of Beartooth Road remain evacuated with those south of the road under an evacuation advisory. Beartooth Road is the only access to the area.

Beartooth Road, Holter Lake Campground, Log Gulch Campground and Departure Point Campground are all closed.

The Beartooth Wildlife Management Area is officially open, but without road access. Other WMA’s in FWP Region 4 remain open, said spokesman Bruce Auckley.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com

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