Highway 2 was closed mid-day Aug. 20, 2015, until further notice east of Essex, MT due to the approach of the Thompson-Divide Complex’s Sheep Fire. (photo Jonathan Moor, GNP)

The Sheep Fire was very active today with the westerly influence of the predicted Red Flag weather conditions. This condition kept ground forces from engaging with direct handline operations. A heavy helicopter was effective in applying 29,000 gallons of retardant today on portions of the perimeter to slow spread.

The fire is estimated at 232 acres, with 0% containment.
200 Structures are at risk, including homes and cabins, the Izaak Walton Inn, a wooden railroad trestle and snowsheds.
By 2 p.m., westerly fire movement downslope, bad smoke conditions, and light ash fall on U.S. Highway 2 near Goat Lick became a safety issue. Fire managers felt it necessary to close U.S. 2 at West Glacier (Mile Post 154) and East Glacier (MP209) with residents only allowed past these points to retrieve valuables.  Access between MP180 (Walton) and MP185 (Bear Creek) will likely have restrictions.
The Red Cross has established a shelter for stranded travelers at the Browning Middle School.
Residents of Essex and surrounding area are advised to prepare their property and themselves due to the fire’s proximity. Flathead County Sheriff is informing residents of the potential for evacuation. It is recommended affected people load critical property and needs into their vehicle. They should have an evacuation plan in place and make sure everyone knows the plan.
A night shift will start tonight in the Essex area to patrol with today’s fire advancement toward U.S. 2.