Lolo Creek Complex burning 8,600 acres


LOLO, Mont. - Fire managers announced tonight that the Lolo Creek Fire Complex is the No. 1 wildfire on the National Interagency Fire Center's priority list.

The blaze has now torched 8,598 acres along Highway 12 west of Lolo.

Fire bosses addressed Lolo residents at a community meeting Wednesday evening. They announced tighter controls at road blocks Thursday -- this means authorities will only permit residents to access their home if it's an emergency and only between 9 a.m. and noon.

Fire officials tell us residents must get permission at the incident command post, in Lolo and then must be back in Lolo by noon. For more information you can call the fire hotline at (406) 258-4636.

Officials say the Lolo Creek Complex nearly got two homes today but firefighters were able to save them. Crews have also made a backup fire line just west of Highway 93.

Wednesday alone, 40,000 gallons of retardant were dropped on the blaze, which is now at 8,598 acres. A total of 160,000 gallons of retardant have been dropped on the fire.

NBC Montana checked with fire officials Wednesday to determine how many added personnel will be here to join the fight Thursday.

Major Tim Crowe with the Montana National Guard tells us they will be bringing in an additional 110 crews to help fight and man the blaze.

Thursday will have nine helicopters, 30 engines and 11 hand crews fighting the fire.

Crowe says residents living in the area can also expect to see National Guard soldiers at fire checkpoints; they'll arrive around 8:00 a.m. Thursday.

Crowe tells NBC Montana guardsmen will not be armed but will assist law enforcement officers in providing fire information and direction to the public about road closures and containment. He tells us an additional 20 personnel will be manning two Blackhawk helicopters that will help fight the fire.

"It's really neighbors helping neighbors because these guardsmen live in these communities," says Crowe. "Some may even live and be displaced by this fire and so it's one of the reasons the men and women of the Montana National Guard put on a uniform and support the state and their nation."

Crowe tells us there are an additional 2,400 Montana National Guard members available to help fight the blaze at the governor's direction.

Additional members of a Type I Incident Management Team will also be in Lolo Thursday; they are equipped to handle more complicated fires like this one.

Dixie Dies, an information officer for the Northern Rockies National Incident Management Team, tells us there are only 16 Type I teams in the country.

The team heading to Lolo is made up of 45 personnel who are managing 508 crews.

Dies tells NBC Montana the number of crews can go up from 508 people if more Type I firefighters are called in.

According to Montana Department of Transportation Highway 12 remains closed from Lolo Hot Springs to the junction of Highway 93 at Lolo. The detour is no longer in place and travelers should choose an alternate route. The duration of the closure is unknown at this time.

Pre-evacuation warnings were handed out in the Ridgeway area of Lolo Wednesday. The notices say the threat of approaching fires is severe enough to indicate a good probability of the need to evacuate, but they are a precautionary warning at this time.

Perimeter details released Wednesday are composed of ground mapping and infrared information. The map shows in red the fire burning from the east at about mile marker 27, and extending west to the the Bear Creek area, Butte Creek and Lower Butte Creek areas.

Fire Information Officer Paula Short said the Sleeman Creek Drainage is under an evacuation order, along with most of the homes on Highway 12.

Senator Jon Tester arrived at the Lolo Community Center with Governor Steve Bullock and the men met with busy fire managers Wednesday afternoon.

Tester and Bullock packed into a fire tent to hear the latest information from the nation's highest priority fire - just days after Governor Bullock ordered a state of emergency due to the number of destructive wildfires burning in the state.

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