A fire started in Lolo National Forest recently that spread very quickly and did cause structural damage along the way. Being a resident of Lolo, Montana myself, this was a very scary sight: too close for comfort. My heart goes out to those helping to contain this as well as to those who were evacuated and lost their homes and belongings to nature’s strong hand. US Highway 93 runs south out of Missoula and into the Bitterroot Valley past Lolo, Florence, Stevensville, Victor, Hamilton, and Darby; eventually leading into Idaho. US Highway 12 runs west out of Lolo and on into Idaho. What started as two separate fires on either side of Highway 12, quickly jumped the road into one known now as the Lolo Creek Complex fire. This fire’s currently active area has now claimed its stake north of US 12 and west of US 93.
The time lapse of this fire has been very surreal to watch right from my front door:
Driving in towards Missoula Sunday August 18th I was able to see some smoke billowing over the mountains and into the sky, but then seemingly overnight the whole valley was completely filled with smoke. Ash and debris even started falling in the early part of the week of August 19th and boy was it hot outside! I watched local neighbors get evacuated and move anything they could while praying and hoping for the best. The fire was in total control for the first few days and was considered 0% contained as it ripped and roared through the mountains, downing five residential properties in its wake.
This fire became the nation’s number one priority and fire fighting personnel hit it hard to protect the 1200+ Lolo residents at risk near Highway 12. “Fire officials report that 600,000 gallons of water and over 200,000 gallons of fire retardant, the equivalent of over 3.2 million 16-ounce bottles of water have been poured onto the blaze.” –KPAX. Sadly, Lolo Creek has definitely taken a hit being the closest water source to out the blaze. Lower portions of the creek are nothing but rock beds now with dead fish scattered about. Being the nation’s number one fire priority helped out very much and some 600+ personnel are fighting with all of their efforts to out/or at least redirect the blaze. Redirect they have! The fire is still burning strong, but the quiet town of Lolo is no longer at risk as of now. Thank you! KPAX TV reported on Sunday August 25th “The Lolo Complex fire has burned an estimated 10,567 acres so far and remains 40% contained. Evacuees were allowed to go back home and U.S. Highway 12 was reopened on Saturday.” –KPAX.
My girlfriend Michelle and I decided to take a drive down US Highway 12 once it reopened to see a closer perspective of this fire’s wake. We instantly turned off the music and focused solely on Lolo National Forest surrounding us. This was a very somber drive with lots of “how sad” and “wows” being said. Although I was driving and had to focus on that, I was able to catch glimpses of the burnt mountainsides, smouldered grasses, burnt trailers, destroyed houses/properties, and the currently still smoking tree stumps. Again, this was a very somber and sad drive to see firsthand the destruction that has been had. More positively though, there was very active fire fighting personnel around every turn and all efforts are in full force! Big ups to the Montana Army National Guard who have came through to help as well. Thank you to all of them. Credit must also go where credit is due to KPAX for always providing up-to-date reporting and information! The fire continues to burn in more rugged and rough terrain, but with it being 40% contained things are cheering up around good ol’ Lolo, Montana.
I was able to capture a short video clip on our drive. This is on US Highway 12 near mile marker 21 where fire fighters are continuing work to put out the smouldering stumps. The whole mountainside I captured in this video of the South side of US 12 is burnt.
Missoula County Disaster and Emergency Services has set up a cash donation fund where you can help and support the victims affected by the Lolo Creek Complex fire: Click Here (United Way of Missoula) to find out more.
Here are a few of my personally recommended reads relating to Montana fires (they are commission-based Amazon affiliate links):
Young Men and Fire By author Norman Maclean (commonly known for another amazing read “A River Runs Through It“)
The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan
Historic Photos of Montana by Gary Glynn