Firefighters battle remote Swan Mountain Range fire

| August 12, 2020 1:01 PM

A 75-acre blaze in the Swan Mountain Range was reported yesterday and continues to burn heavy fuels on steep terrain. The Lion Creek Fire is located approximately one mile outside the Bob Marshall Wilderness and four miles from land owned by the Department of Natural Resources. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

At 10:50 am yesterday, a Montana DNRC helicopter spotted the fire on its way to another fire assignment and the U.S Forest Service immediately sent ground crews and helicopters to make an initial attack. Due to the remote location and lack of road access, it took ground crews approximately three hours to hike to the Lion Creek Fire.

Once on scene, firefighters were only able to engage the fire in a limited manner due to falling snags and the steep, rugged slopes. Helicopter resources were able to moderate fire spread, accessing a nearby lake for water with quick turnaround times.

The area is known for the development of nighttime thermal belt activity due to its location and elevation so continued nighttime burning is anticipated. Initial attack resources are still 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 Service is using two additional hand crews, several advanced fallers and two helicopters to aid in suppression efforts.

The Lion Creek Trail area is closed as are nearby Forest Service roads since they have connector trails near the fire. People in the Swan Valley may see some smoke, though currently fire managers expect that much of the smoke will blow east into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The area is not heavily visited, but visitors to Van Lake, 7 miles away, should be aware that Lion Creek Trail #25 is closed. The Forest Service 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 attacks, supported by available air tankers 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 Service 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. Updates will follow in the event firefighting tactics or fire behavior change significantly.