More than 50 people attended an hour-long community meeting Friday morning at the Hot Springs Senior Center to listen to officials share updates on the Garden Creek Fire, located two miles north of Hot Springs.
Describing the terrain where the fire is located as “a jungle,” Fire Management Officer Ron Swaney with The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire said that the blaze has sparked interest not only for Hot Springs residents, but also for crews working the fire, due to fuels and hot temperatures.
As of last Friday afternoon, the fire was not expected to push southward toward Hot Springs.
Officials anticipated the fire to head north due to incoming winds Saturday.
The fire began on Friday, July 27 when lightning struck a rock with layers of dry debris, helping it to gain a couple of acres within the first day, Swaney explained.
The type-3 incident measured 2.052 acres and was 20 percent contained as of Monday morning.
In an updated press release Monday, DOF reported that cooler temperatures Sunday allowed “hand crews to secure control lines with heavy mop-up on the north perimeter.”
On Monday, the goal was to remove snags on well-traveled roads and control lines of the fire, along with additional mop-up work.
Firefighters also would “patrol extensively on the southwest and northwest perimeters,” according to DOF.
Bob McCrea, head of operations from DOF, said Friday that within an hour of an initial report, crews were on scene.
Measuring about an acre when first attacks began, McCrea said the fire progressed because of the dry debris and layers on the rocks where it originated.
The fire, Swaney and McCrea said, was lined as of Friday morning.
“We’re attempting to hold it. I’m not going to say we’re going to hold it; I’m not going to say we’re not. It’s weather-dependent,” McCrea said.
Crews were hoping to mop up around the fire to keep it from spreading, he added.
According to an update from DOF Friday afternoon, no evacuations were in place.
A structure was threatened and evacuated on the lower HS-5000 Road Thursday, but the structure was secured with fire retardant and the residents returned home.
Should the fire grow, officials said that they hope to have evacuation warnings in place for residents eight hours in advance, but an evacuation could happen in as little as one hour.
Sanders County Emergency Manager Bill Naegeli said that residents can sign up for updates by visiting http://hyper-reach.com/mtsanderssignup.html, or by calling (406) 826-8074.
Residents with landlines are already in the system, but those with cell phones should register, he added.
“It’s fire season,” so residents should consider what belongings they would take in the event of an evacuation, Naegli said.
Hot Springs High School is the primary shelter for the community, he added.
Art Trahan, incident commander, shared that winds from the southwest gusting at 20 m.p.h. were expected Saturday due to a dry cold front.
The Haines index was expected to “max out” at a 5 or 6 Friday and Saturday, Trahan said.
The index, usually at a 1 or 2, measures unstable air that may contribute to developing or worsening fire.
McCrea said Friday that with multiple wildfires going on around the country simultaneously, largely in California, requests for additional assistance have been made for the Garden Creek Fire.
Lolo National Forest has helped, but had “to go back,” McCrea said, along with assistance from the state of Montana.
Swaney later added that crews from Bigfork, New Hampshire and Oklahoma have been working the fire.
Road closures include the HS-4000 Road, HS-5000 Road, HS-1000 Road at the HS-5030 Road junction to the north of the fire and the HS-1000 Road at the McGinnis Road junction to the south of the fire.
Officials stated during the meeting that if possible, residents should stay off the roadways, as equipment travels fast and can’t always see due to dust and smoke in the area.
An incident camp for firefighters has been set up at Hot Springs High School.
Officials ask that if residents would like to make donations for the firefighters, water, gatorade, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste are among items needed.
Additional information on the Garden Creek Fire can be obtained by visiting a trailor stationed at the Conoco gas station at the intersection of Montana Highway 28 and Hot Springs Road.
For updates on the fire, visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6098/ or https://www.facebook.com/CSKT.Division.of.Fire/