Montana's 2023 Wildfire Season began last week, with two lightning-caused fires reported in the western part of the state.  The first was the Colt Fire, which is located near Seely Lake. Aerial firefighters were grounded for awhile over the weekend when a drone was spotted in the area. Flying a drone in an area where firefighting aircraft are working is now a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by a substantial fine.

The second fire reported last week is in the Bowles Creek drainage east of Hamilton.

The following reports are from Inciweb, the Inter-Agency Wildfire Reporting agency.


An overnight infrared flight mapped the Colt Fire at approximately 2,927 acres in size and it remains 0% contained. The fire size has increased by 1,352 acres over the past two days. Fire activity on Sunday was moderate with light winds and stable air over the area. Additional fire crews and equipment have been assigned to fire operations.

Crews continued to prepare an indirect fire line on the northeast side of the fire along Forest Road 646 by hand cutting and removing brush and other ground vegetation. Personnel working on the south, west and north sides of the fire looked at road systems for access and for opportunities to develop direct or indirect fire lines. The Structure Protection group conducted assessments and preparations for structure protection in the areas along Highway 83 and around the lakes south and east of the fire. Air Operations was busy using helicopters and the CL415 water scooper fixed wing aircraft to drop water on areas on the fire. The fire continued to actively burn and remained active during the night.

Personnel will now be working on the North and South sides of the fire to open existing roads and begin fire line construction in areas that have a high probability of success of containing the fire. Access to the north side of the fire is proving to be a bit more challenging. The Structure Protection Group will continue their structure assessments and preparations. Helicopters and fixed wing water scooping aircraft will be used to drop water on the fire if the flying conditions remain safe. Firefighter and public safety are the number one priority as suppression work continues. With a Red Flag Warning forecasted for the area, fire managers and crews will review their escape routes and safety zones and work with a heightened awareness of changing weather and fire activity.

The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office Evacuation Warning and Order summary:

-Residents on Beaver Creek Road (near the summit) are under an Evacuation Warning.

-Mile marker 31 (Beaver Creek Road at the intersection of Hwy 83) south towards Seeley Lake to mile marker 27, and including residences in Rovero Flats, are under an Evacuation Order.

-Residences beginning at mile marker 27, south end of Rovero Flats, to mile marker 25.5 (the intersection of the West Fork of the Clearwater Road and Hwy 83) are under an Evacuation Warning.

-Residences on the north and south ends of Lake Inez are under an Evacuation Warning. The east side of Lake Inez, along Hwy 83, is not under any Warning or Order.

For evolving Evacuations and Warnings please visit the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page .

Please be aware that due to the possibility of rapidly changing conditions, an Evacuation Order may be issued with no prior notice or warning. Home and property owners in the surrounding area should remain vigilant and prepared.


Ground resources and an early morning helicopter flight on July 21st estimated the Bowles Fire to be approximately 50 acres and the Daly Creek fire on the Bitterroot side of the divide to be approximately 1-2 acres. Initial attack resources lined and “plumbed” (with water and hoselays) the Daly Fire. Fire operations officials pulled those individuals off the active fireline for safety reasons. Due to this active fire behavior and resulting growth, these fires have merged and will be referred to as the Bowles Creek Fire. The fire is located approximately three miles southwest of Skalkaho Pass in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area (WSA) in steep terrain.

Active fire behavior due to receptive fuels and hot and dry weather conditions resulted in extensive fire growth throughout the day. Fuels consist of thick timber and a heavy dead and downed fuel component. Two 20-year old fire footprints from previous fires are located adjacent to this area.  Grass and brush are still green; however, they will still support fire spread.



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