Officials update residents on Blue Bay Fire

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  • A type 1 helicopter battles the fire near Blue Bay recently. Officials say that fighting the fire has cost approximately $1.8 million so far. (Photo by Chris Kelly)

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    Bob McCrea, left, and Ron Swaney, both of the Division of Fire, listen as residents ask questions during a public meeting regarding the Blue Bay fire Monday evening. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)

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    A type 1 helicopter battles the fire near Blue Bay Wednesday. (Photo by Chris Kelly)

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    The Forest Fire near Blue Bay grew to 200 acres Wednesday evening. (A type 1 helicopter battles the fire near Blue Bay Wednesday. (Photo by Chris Kelly))

  • A type 1 helicopter battles the fire near Blue Bay recently. Officials say that fighting the fire has cost approximately $1.8 million so far. (Photo by Chris Kelly)

  • 1

    Bob McCrea, left, and Ron Swaney, both of the Division of Fire, listen as residents ask questions during a public meeting regarding the Blue Bay fire Monday evening. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)

  • 2

    A type 1 helicopter battles the fire near Blue Bay Wednesday. (Photo by Chris Kelly)

  • 3

    The Forest Fire near Blue Bay grew to 200 acres Wednesday evening. (A type 1 helicopter battles the fire near Blue Bay Wednesday. (Photo by Chris Kelly))

Officials confirmed Monday evening that the Blue Bay Fire has a price tag of approximately $1.8 million, with about 80 percent due to aircraft costs.

No structures are in danger of the fire, according to Operations Chief Bob McCrea from the Division of Fire.

The fire began Aug. 10 after a lightning strike along Highway 35 across from Blue Bay Campgrounds.

Road closures associated with the Blue Bay fire include B-2000 and B-2200.

There are currently no evacuations in place.

While the nearly 500-acre fire is lined, McCrea said that he considers the fire 60 percent contained only because he’s “concerned” about 40 percent.

McCrea said that snow or a steady rainfall will extinguish the fires surrounding the area.

“We’ll still be there a while. (We’re) not going home tomorrow,” he said.

There are six aircraft that patrol the reservation each day for new fires, McCrea said.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 111 crewmembers working to keep the fire contained, according to inciweb.gov.

The fire has remained at 490 acres.

McCrea said that aircraft have been dropping water on the north and south lines, and more retardant was sprayed earlier Monday on the northeast side.

Another way to help keep the fire contained, officials explained, was a reason why residents heard explosions Saturday.

McCrea explained that personnel strategically set 99-foot-long explosives.

He said that the blasts reach the mineral level of soil, which replaces crews digging lines by hand.

Swaney added that crews saw “everything” in the way beforehand, and at night blasters “laid out the first thousand feet.”

He said that the goal is to establish a containment line without exposing firefighters to “a tremendous amount” of additional risks by getting the line done quickly.

A Burned Area Emergency Response team arrived Monday to begin assessing post-fire rehabilitation needs, according to an email from officials Tuesday morning.

One resident asked about logging and other efforts to ward off fires next year.

McCrea said that while the DOF cuts trees down each year, it’s the higher elevations that are difficult to get to.

Ron Swaney, a fire operations manager with the DOF, said that prescribed fire efforts have been a help in fighting fires.

He explained that ideas are identified by fire officials who then go through an application process, which can take a year or two to complete.

Swaney also shared he was on a fire called Black, up in the Mission Mountains on Sunday.

“I can see forever up there,” he said.

Describing the scenery, Swaney said that he saw columns of smoke from Rice Ridge, which “is running,” as is the Liberty fire.

“They’re all picking up. Lolo Peak is going for it,” Swaney said a column of smoke was visible as far as Helena.

“Come home off that, there’s Blue Bay, this little wisp,” he said, chuckling along with residents.

“That’s amazing,” he said, as the residents began applauding fire officials.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” McCrea said.

During a public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 22, Swaney expressed concern that firefighters are beginning to go back to their hometowns as colleges begin their fall classes.

This week he said that since this fire season has been especially dry, hot and relentless, firefighters go home and decide against coming back.

As crews continue working to ensure the Blue Bay fire is contained, officials are keeping an eye on the weather for the next several days.

Tony Harwood, a fire behavior analyst with the Division of Fire, explained that while officials were bracing themselves for “critical” weather patterns and a fire flare-up last week, this week there is still concern.

Heavy smoke last week lowered temperatures and raised relative humidity. Any lightning that was forecast stayed mostly south in Missoula.

Due to the way the weather and smoke worked together, Harwood said that crews were able to build a line on the north side of the fire, making some “significant gains.”

Another critical weather pattern is beginning as temperatures climb into the low and mid 90s, Harwood cautioned, with a possibility of storms Thursday.

Officials noted that while conditions this year have been unseasonably hot and dry, the trend will more than likely continue through October.

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