A wildfire caused by lightning east of Eureka Monday night grew to almost 1,500 acres by Thursday morning, when officials reported “minimal growth” of the fire the previous day and that firefighters were focused primarily on keeping the fire east of a Forest Service Road serving as a fire break.
The Gibralter Ridge fire, named for its location about seven miles east of Eureka, caused evacuations and pre-evacuations Tuesday morning and closures of several areas including Forest Service lands and recreation areas.
Thursday’s plan was for “firefighters (to) patrol for spot fires on private and state lands and (to) use Foothill Road as a control line to minimize the threat to the structures in the area,” an incident report states. “Crews are scouting north and south of the fire for locations for contingency lines and look for areas to thin the vegetation to modify fire behavior which will provide for firefighters the best opportunity to hold the fire.”
In addition, 10 additional engines we reported ordered and fire managers planned to use logging equipment to assist 219 fire personnel in battling the wildfire.
The areas of Sherman Creek, Griffith Creek, Therriault Pass Road and Stevens Creek remained under evacuation orders Thursday morning, while other areas, including Glen Lake and Sinclair Creek southeast of West Road were under pre-evacuation, the report states.
At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Lincoln County Commissioner Mike Cole, who represents the Eureka district, estimated that the evacuation orders had affected about 100 people. The following morning, between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office allowed evacuees to check in on their homes and collect personal belonging.
Closures included Grave Creek Road past the junction of Foothills Road and Grave Creek Road and the Ten Lakes/Grave Creek recreation area beginning at the junction of Foothills Road and Grave Creek.
Tuesday afternoon, the Kootenai National Forest announced it had closed “lands, roads, trails and recreation sites in the vicinity of the Gibralter Ridge Fire ... to public use and travel due to current fire activity.”
As a result of the evacuations, the American Red Cross of Montana opened a shelter Tuesday morning at the First Church of God at 1295 2nd Ave. E. in Eureka.
The Red Cross also arranged for a dog park near the shelter to hold evacuees’ dogs, while livestock could be taken to the County Fair Grounds in Eureka and smaller animals and pets could be housed at the Tobacco Valley Animal Shelter.
About 300 people attended a public meeting 5 p.m. Wednesday at Eureka High School at 340 9th St. in Eureka, where officials addressed fire status, expected fire activities and safety concerns.
Command of the fire was taken over 6 p.m. Wednesday by Rick Connell’s Northern Rockies Western Montana Type 2 Incident Management Team. Agencies working on the fire include the Forest Service, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Eureka Volunteer Fire Department, Trego-Fortine-Stryker Volunteer Fire Department, Lincoln County Emergency Management Services and the American Red Cross.
Influenced by the fire, the Lincoln County Commission during its weekly meeting on Wednesday in Libby declared a state of emergency in Lincoln County due to “significant wildfire activity” that was “threatening public safety (and private property.”
The declaration, contained in Resolution 992, also notes “unprecedented wildland fire conditions,” “extreme drought” and that “local fire response resources are operating at full capacity.”
As a result of the declaration, all provisions of the County Emergency Operations Plan are in effect. According to county documents, the plan establishes an outline for a coordinated response to either natural or man-made disasters.
Ahead of the commission vote on the resolution, someone expressed surprise that Cole hadn’t stayed in Eureka that day.
“Things are tight up there,” he acknowledged. “But good people are taking care of things.”