After a summer full of fluctuating temperatures, Northwest Montana has finally been handed its first serious fire of the year.
The Copper King Fire began on Sunday, July 31st, just east of Thompson Falls, where it steadily built up to around 3,000 acres in size. However, a front moving into the region brought hot, dry winds to the region on this past Sunday, causing a surge in activity that more than doubled the fire in size by Monday evening, and by Tuesday morning, officials estimated the fire had increased to over 21,000 acres.
The rapid, unexpected growth has resulted in evacuation notices for residents along Highway 200 and in the Little Thompson River area, along with pre-evacuation notices for other nearby areas. The Thompson River Road and ACM Road in the area are closed as of Monday evening and several structures are currently threatened, including a recently rebuilt lookout tower along with many buildings near the Thompson River and in the Highway 200 area. An emergency shelter has been established at the Thompson Falls High School, and the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office can be contacted for more up to date information.
Over 300 firefighters are assigned to the blaze and a Type 1 Incident Management Team took over command on Monday night due to the increased complexity of the burn. A Red Flag Warning remains in effect as a dry cold front passes over, lowering humidity and bringing winds that are expected to hit 20-30 miles per hour with gusts up to 45. Fire managers expect to see the fire grow to the northeast with more extreme fire behavior, including significant uphill runs, torching, and long-range spotting.
The Copper King Fire is now the most active fire and second largest in the state of Montana, with committed resources including three Type 1 crews, five Type 2 crews, 14 engines, seven water tenders, seven helicopters, and numerous pieces of heavy equipment. The fire is 15% contained as of Tuesday evening, and more resources are en route as extreme fire behavior is expected continue.
Up to date information on the Napoleon Complex fire can be found via InciWeb.
Posted updated 8/23/16 to reflect new fire size estimates.