New evacuations, pre-evacuations as West Fork fire reaches 3,679 acres

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The West Fork fire reached 3,679 acres Monday morning and caused new evacuations to be ordered, pre-evacuations to be given and roads to remain closed.

About 10 a.m. Monday, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office ordered the evacuation of all areas of upper bobtail road including Hutton Drive and points north — areas that had been on pre-evacuation notice since Saturday morning. It was the second evacuation to be ordered as a result of the West Fork fire — on Saturday, residents of the 17 Mile Road area were ordered to evacuate.

About 11 a.m. Monday, the Sheriff’s Office issued a pre-evacuation notice for Bobtail Road south of Hutton Drive to the Kootenai River Road. It joined existing pre-evacuations of Bobtail Cutoff, including Winter Road and Whitetail Road; Pipe Creek Road from Forest Way, including Lodge Pole Road, Blue Mountain Lookout Road and Doak Creek Road; Creekside Road and Kootenai River Road from Quartz Creek Road to the end Kootenai River Road.

The Sheriff’s Office is urging residents to take pre-evacuations and evacuations seriously. At a Sunday afternoon town meeting in Libby, Sheriff Roby Bowe shared his office’s expectations for pre-evacuation notices and evacuations orders. The purpose of the former, he said at the meeting, is to prepare to “be ready to go in under an hour” if an evacuation is ordered.

Bowe said over the past couple days the Sheriff’s Office ran into problems in the Caribou fire area where “not enough people took us seriously” when given pre-evacuation notices. As a result, some evacuations were so last-minute that “houses were burning 10 to 15 minutes after” people left.

The West Fork fire has also caused the Sheriff’s Office to close a number of nearby roads: Pipe Creek Road at Timberline Campground — near Red Dog Saloon and Pizza — to the Summit; Quartz Mountain Road; and Bobtail Road north of its intersection with Bobtail Cutoff/Hutton Drive.

“Please respect the closures and do not attempt to go around the barricades,” states a post to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. “They are in place for a purpose. Unnecessary people in these areas are not helping the flow of our resources to fight the fire or for residents and their helpers trying to pre-evacuate or evacuate.”

According to an incident fact sheet released noon Monday by the Forest Service, hot and dry conditions were forecast to continue today with breezy afternoon winds expected to increase between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“The fire is burning under record setting hot and dry conditions so people can expect to see significant burning activity,” the fact sheet states.

As a result of smoke caused from local and regional wildfires, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued an air quality alert for Lincoln County until 9 a.m. Monday.

Stage II Fire Restrictions remain in effect for Lincoln County and Kootenai National Forest due to the extreme fire danger.

The West Fork fire was caused by lightning Aug. 30 and is located in the Quartz Creek/Bobtail Ridge area on the Libby Ranger District, the fact sheet states. It’s being manage by a local Type 3 Fire Response Team that has been using heavy equipment to build shaded fuel breaks with weather dictating line construction activities.

“The Fire Team is using J. Neil’s Park to stage equipment,” the fact sheet states. “Please be cautious and drive slowly when accessing the park.”

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