Rice Ridge Fire now top priority fire in nation


MISSOULA, Mont. - The Rice Ridge Fire burning outside Seeley Lake is now the number one priority fire in the nation, according to fire information officers.

The current fire team is timing out and Greg Poncin is taking over the Rice Ridge Fire as of Tuesday.

The fire forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Seeley Lake is now causing people to leave their homes 30 miles away on the opposite edge of the blaze.

The fire grew more than 12,000 acres Saturday, ballooning to least 55,000 acres. The fire is burning northeast of Seeley Lake.

Fire information officers say there was significant spotting Saturday. The spot fires traveled as far as a mile away. The fire itself grew 10 miles.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect for this area. Fire information officers say dry conditions will combine with breezy westerly winds, leading to critical fire weather conditions across western Montana.

Fire information officers say Sunday's main objectives include securing the perimeter north of Seeley Lake. Crews also aim to keep the fire north of Cottonwood Lakes Road.

Here are the details on evacuation orders and warnings for the Rice Ridge Fire:

Mandatory Evacuation Orders:

Powell County officials on Sunday ordered the evacuation of the Coopers Lake area. Area along Forest Service Rd 17507 which runs north into North Cottonwood Canyon was issued due to an immediate fire threat near the Rice Ridge Fire; two cabins have been affected. Northern Boundary: The junction of Highway 83 and Cedar Lane northeast to Morrell Creek Road. The boundary continues along the Cottonwood Lakes Road east to the Forest Boundary. Eastern Boundary: Cottonwood Lakes Road at the Forest Boundary and south to the northern boundary of the Double Arrow. Southern Boundary: The junction of Highway 83 and Whitetail Drive east to the junction of Whitetail Drive and Dolly Varden. The southern boundary continues east to include the area north of the Commons Area and eastward to the intersection of Montana Drive and South Canyon Drive, continuing southeast along Montana Drive to the junction with Glacier Drive and then south to the junction with Double Arrow Road including Pyramid Loop and all areas in the Double Arrow Subdivision to the south and east. Western Boundary: The junction of Highway 83 and Cedar Lane south to the junction of Highway 83 and Whitetail Drive.

Evacuation Warnings:

This current warning area includes both sides of Highway 83 N. from Tamarack Resort to Bear Grass, extending to Bear Grass Ln, Loon Lane and Camp Creek. Also under an evacuation warning are residents on both the north and south sides of Boy Scout Rd. to the Fawn Creek intersection. Kozy Korner Meadows area. Eastern boundary starts in the 7500 block of Woodworth Road and runs west to Cottonwood Lakes Road, then north through the Rich Ranch. There are 15 homes in the warning area. This also includes the Black Canyon Ranch which is the only property located on the south side of Woodworth Road in the warning area.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office has issued an evacuation WARNING for the Big Sky and Emerald Lake areas: This evacuation WARNING includes all properties from the intersection of Woodworth Road and Highway 83, East to Skilly Drive, and all properties north of Woodworth Road.

Red Cross shelter site located at the UCC Church, 405 University Avenue, Missoula MT.

Fire information booths will be staffed at the Valley Market, Seeley Airport and Rovero's Hardware Store on Highway 83 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Closures: A closure order is still in effect for the areas surrounding the Rice Ridge Fire. All Seeley Lake waters are closed. Big Larch campground is still closed.

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