POLSON — Firefighters were battling two blazes in the Kootenai National Forest Saturday.
The Highway 37 Fire near Libby is currently burning across 46 acres, according to Kootenai Public Information Officer Dellora Gauger. That’s similar to its size yesterday. Gauger said it had experienced “minimal growth” and that this trend was expected to continue, provided that winds remain low.
The National Weather Service’s Saturday afternoon forecast for the area showed westerly winds blowing at about 13 to 15 miles per hour, but gusting as high as 20 mph. They’re expected to slow down to 5 to 11 mph Saturday night.
This fire requires special precautions because of its location near the W.R. Grace vermiculite mining site, which is contaminated with asbestos.
A 10-person contract crew equipped with specialized breathing equipment is fighting the fire, joined by the Lolo hotshot crew. Gauger said they’ve been putting in fire lines and mopping up where possible, and are aided by two helicopters dropping water. The fire is currently being managed as a Type 3 incident.
Another concern with this fire had been its proximity to electrical transmission lines. Gauger said Saturday that no structures were threatened or had been destroyed by the fire.
According to the Montana Department of Transportation, motorists can expect single-lane travel and delays of up to 10 minutes on Highway 37 between 3 and 4 miles north of Libby.
The Zulu Fire in the Yaak north of Libby measured about 20 acres and was 70 percent contained, with about 70 personnel present, on Saturday afternoon. The Forest Service plans to change its status to Type 4, which is less severe than Type 3, Monday morning.
Kootenai National Forest has closed Canoe Gulch Road No. 872, Canoe Gulch A. Road No. 872A, Kennedy Gulch Road No. 1032, and Alexander Creek Road No. 4872
In the Bitterroot National Forest, about 35 miles southwest of Darby, the Reynolds Lake Fire is currently 1,068 acres in size.
Tod McKay, public information officer for the forest, said that its growth had slowed and that "the crews had a really good day" Friday. About 240 people, including six hotshot crews, three other hand crews, six engines, five helicopters and a water tender are currently on scene, and have focused on building fire lines around its perimeter.
McKay said the fire was about 5 percent contained at 3 p.m. Saturday, and that hand line and hose line are in place along 75 percent of the fire's western perimeter. In addition, no structures are threatened, and the nearest private property is 9 miles away.
This fire is currently being managed as a Type 3 Incident. Forest Road No. 044, which accesses the Reynolds Lake Trailhead, is currently closed.
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