Fire prompts area closure for public safety

Kalispell, MT August 12, 2020 – Flathead National Forest firefighters are working on suppressing a fire in a remote area of the Swan Mountain Range.

The Lion Creek Fire was reported yesterday, August 11, burning in heavy fuels on steep slopes. Fire managers have not yet determined the cause.

The fire is burning approximately one mile outside the Bob Marshall Wilderness and four miles from other land ownership (DNRC).

The Lion Creek Fire, located in the Swan Range on the Flathead National Forest. Aug 11, 2020 (Photo: USFS-Pargman)

At 10:50 am yesterday, a Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation helicopter spotted the fire on its way to another fire assignment. The Forest immediately sent ground crews and helicopters for initial attack. Due to its remote location, it took ground crews approximately three hours to hike to the fire. No roads access the area. Once there, firefighters were only able to engage the fire in a limited manner due to falling snags and steep, rugged terrain. Helicopter resources were able to moderate fire spread, accessing a nearby lake for water and quick turnaround times.

The fire was measured last night at 75 acres. The area is known for the development of nighttime thermal belt activity due to its location and elevation. Some nighttime burning activity is expected. Initial attack resources are working on securing the south flank of the fire and maintaining access on the Lion Creek Trail to allow backcountry users to leave the area. Today, the Forest is using two additional hand crews, several advanced fallers and two helicopters to aid in suppression efforts. The Lion Creek Trail area is closed, and nearby Forest Service roads are also closed as they have connector trails that come near the fire.

People in the Swan Valley may see some smoke, though right now fire managers expect that much of the smoke will blow east into the Bob Marshall Wilderness due to wind patterns.

The area is not heavily visited, but visitors to Van Lake (7 miles away) should be aware that Lion Creek Trail #25 is closed. People can map the fire location using the latitude/longitude 47 40.644, -113 38.274.

The Forest expects that this fire may require a longer duration response due to its location and the difficulties it presents with access, steep terrain, falling snags, and heavy forest fuels.

This year, due to Covid-19, the Forest Service is using aggressive initial attack, supported by available airtankers and helicopters wherever possible to extinguish wildfires quickly and minimize the need to bring large numbers of firefighters together. Fire managers understand the potential complications wildfire smoke may cause for COVID-19 patients and others with respiratory issues. The Forest will work closely with communities to assist with forecasting and preparation for wildfire smoke.

So far this summer, the Flathead National Forest has responded to 16 fires on Forest Service managed lands. This is the only one currently burning and is the largest fire in the Flathead National Forest so far this year.

- By Lauren Alley, USFS -