After months of exceedingly hot, dry weather, fire activity in the Northwest corner of Montana has taken off in the past week.
The Napoleon Complex began on August 19th in the Bull River drainage, just north of the town of Noxon along Highway 56. The complex consists of multiple small fires all sparked by lightning on August 13th, and now totals at least 2,160 acres- one of the largest fires in the Kootenai National Forest in recent memory. The bulk of the complex sits on the side of Pillick Ridge to the south of Highway 56, but at least one blaze is north of the highway on Berry Mountain. With fire burning on both sides of the highway, visiblity for motorists has been extremely limited in recent days, and travelers are advised to use low speed and caution. Highway Patrol is assisting where possible as Forest Service crews move throughout the area.
Containment is no longer on the table for Napoleon, with fires in the complex still seeing rapid growth in heavy, dry timber. Firefighters are instead focusing on defending the dozens of homes in the valley, all of which have been evacuated as of Thursday morning, as well as those along Highway 200 closer to Noxon. Pre-evacuation orders have been issued for the greater Noxon area and a Red Cross shelter set up at the local high school.
The Napoleon is burning alongside several other major fires on the Kootenai Forest, including the Kootenai Complex near Trego and the Teepee Mountain Fire near the Yaak Valley. Like much of the nation, firefighters in the area are stretched thin due to the beginning of seasonal employee turnover and resources that are already devoted to helping crews in other areas of the country.
Up to date information on the Napoleon Complex fire can be found via InciWeb.