West Fork and Moose Peak fires: Rains decrease fire activity and help firefighters increase containment

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What a difference a rainy day can make — or, as the case has been this week, multiple rainy days — when it comes to wildfires.

Thursday morning, the West Fork fire was reported 60 percent contained, and the Moose Peak fire was reported 70 percent contained — both significant increases since Monday.

Further, both were fairly evenly staffed at 282 and 254 personnel, respectively, a far cry from the fires’ lightning starts about three weeks ago when the Moose Peak fire went unstaffed for days before resources slowly became available.

In some areas the wet weather slowed down firefighting efforts as well as fire activity, as slick, muddy roads made travel difficult.

“With the continued wet weather, firefighters will concentrate on patrolling, holding, and improving all containment lines,” a Thursday morning fact sheet states.

Accumulated snow was reported on Mount Tom and on Gold Hill where a spot fire developed almost two weeks ago.

At what was expected to be the final regularly scheduled briefing Thursday morning in the Ponderosa Room next to Libby City Hall, there wasn’t much news to report. Though the West Fork fire had grown to 20,008 acres and the Moose Peak fire to 13,854 acres, the wet weather certainly had put a damper on fire activity — so much so that shortly before noon the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office reported that all pre-evacuation notices in Lincoln County were lifted, and that Pipe Creek Road would be opened to regular traffic 9 a.m. Saturday.

On Tuesday, Pipe Creek Road to 17 Mile Road was opened to escorted residential traffic only; the delay in opening it to all traffic was due to final clearing of slash from logging operations and for street sweeping of the resulting debris.

According to the fact sheet, crews on Wednesday removed “danger trees weakened by recent fire and weather conditions along public access routes” and moved unneeded equipment from firelines, an activity that was expected to be ongoing in the coming days.

In the meeting in the Ponderosa Room, Colby Crawford, an operations section manager for incident command, said that there would be “steep demobilization” of equipment between Thursday and Saturday, as well as the identification of what equipment would need to stay behind and where.

In addition, Crawford said that rehabilitation of dozer lines would be ongoing.

The story was much the same for the Moose Peak fire — slick roads were limiting access in certain areas, while equipment was being removed from firelines and firefighters were focused “on patrolling, holding, and improving all hand and dozer lines established in the East Fisher Creek, McGinnis Creek, and Fishtrap Creek areas.”

Community outreach efforts were also reported to be winding down. Incident Command PIO Jeni Lawver said bulletin boards were being removed from various locations, and Lincoln County Emergency Management Planner Brent Teske said that the Emergency Operations Center had been disbanded, though a phone line was still being forwarded to county offices in case anyone called with any questions.

Incident Commander Jay Esperance asked that a “close-out meeting” be scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, during which his team would transfer management of the fire to another team. It wasn’t immediately clear which team would be taking over.

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