(Choteau, Montana) The lightning-ignited Red Shale Fire was reported on July 18 by Beartop Lookout in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. The fire has continued to grow, burning within the footprint of the 1988 Gates Park Fire, in thickets of younger lodgepole pine regrowth and the standing snags and downed dead trees remaining from 1988. An infrared flight from July 28 measured the fire’s size at 8613 acres. Infrared imaging shows the areas of heat on the fire, and allows for high quality estimates of size. Fire managers must order infrared flights the day before, and their availability is limited dependent on other fire activity in the west.

Twelve fire personnel are stationed at Gates Park Administrative Site. They are monitoring fire behavior and managing structure protection for Gates Park, Wrong Creek, and Rocky Creek cabin sites. Sprinklers and fire-resistant structure wrap are being used to help protect the structures at these sites. Two helicopters are assisting with fire management. A Type 2 helicopter is performing water drops on spot fires to slow fire growth. A Type 3 helicopter is being utilized for aerial monitoring of the fire and is available for initial attack activities for this area.

The Lewis and Clark National Forest brought in a small group of fire behavior specialists to help develop a long-term strategy to manage the fire. This plan was published on July 24, and focuses on a strategy to benefit the wilderness while providing for public and firefighter safety and resource protection. Past fire footprints and natural barriers will be used to limit fire spread, and actions such as water or retardant drops may be used to help prevent the fire from moving out of the Wilderness. The plan identifies key geographic locations, known as Management Action Points, where management decisions might change if the fire reached those areas.

This plan is helping the Ranger District and Forest personnel managing the fire to make decisions based on many factors including current fire behavior, future weather forecasts, issues of public and fire personnel safety, and the benefit of the fire to the wilderness. The fire is clearing much of the 2-3 foot downfall and opening up the thick regrowth of lodgepole pine that has blanketed the area following the 1988 Gates Park Fire.

The fire management plan identifies a strategic goal of monitoring effects of smoke in sensitive areas such as towns. To help achieve this goal, smoke particulate monitoring stations have been installed at Ear Mountain Guard Station east of Choteau and in Augusta at the Forest Service office.