Crews fight to stop spread of Lolo Creek Complex


LOLO, Mont. - Tuesday firefighters concentrated their efforts on reining in the most active section of the Lolo Creek Complex. Along Woodman Creek, the fire is spreading north up the valley toward Blue Mountain. On either side of that active section, the fire has been contained.

Fire crews implemented a strategy of direct attack in Woodman Creek. They dug in right at the edge of the burned area, supported by aerial attack units. Steep, rugged terrain surrounds the creek; heavy equipment had great difficulty moving down the steep slopes to the fire's edge today according to public information officials from the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team. However, helicopter crews were providing rapid support nearly every 5 minutes.

Helicopter operations at Woodman Creek were easily visible on the summit of Blue Mountain, where other firefighters are trying to prepare the area in case the current fire line can't be held. The historic watch tower on Blue Mountain is being wrapped in heat resistant sheeting. The rigid fabric is made out of layers of Kevlar, the material in bulletproof vests, and aluminum.

Just down the ridgeline, the University of Montana Observatory is also at risk. Inside the small cinder block building, the valuable telescope is being wrapped in the sheeting as well.

Around both structures, chainsaws and even a logging tractor are working to cut down all but the tallest trees. According to fire officials, clearing small trees and underbrush keeps the flames from spreading to the forest canopy and helps area roadways act as natural fire barriers by effectively widening them. 

Measures on Blue Mountain may not be needed for the Lolo Creek Complex, but they could be useful for the next fire that comes along in the area. More barriers in place mean less work and a quicker containment period on a fire.

The resources provided to the Lolo Creek Complex and other large fires like it can also be a blessing for the surrounding area. The large number of units in the area because of the fire allowed for quick initial attack on fires started by lightning over the weekend in the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests. It is the silver lining of a fire that has damaged homes and lives.

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