Crown Mountain fire scar

This Oct. 9 picture shows how the Crown Mountain Fire has burned into a portion of the 1988 Canyon Creek Fire footprint, allowing Interagency Hotshot Crews to engage directly without unnecessary risk to fire personnel. (Photo courtesy USFS)

The Crown Mountain Fire, burning west of Augusta on the national forest, had expanded to encompass 1,368 acres as of Oct. 13, according to the U.S. Forest Service update on Wednesday.

The USFS said this would be the last daily update it plans to issue on this fire unless conditions dramatically change, according to Public Information Officer Chiara Cipriano.

The US Forest Service had downsized its fire crew from a high of 140 last week to 89 on Wednesday to suppress the fire on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest 16 miles west of Augusta. On Oct. 11 and 12, cooler conditions have prevailed with two inches of snow falling on the fire area on Tuesday.

Fire activity over the past 48 hours was limited to minimal smoldering and creeping in response to the snow, cooler temperatures and decreased winds. Additionally, crews continue to realize success in their containment priority of preventing further northward movement beyond Petty Creek and any eastward movement toward the Forest boundary in Smith Creek.

Crews remain vigilant to activate all the point protection equipment if fire activity necessitates in Smith Creek and the Benchmark corridor.

Over the next few days area temperatures will rise into the high 40s and low 50s, with nighttime temperatures dipping to the high 20s low 30s, and winds not exceeding 19mph. There is a 12% chance for precipitation tonight, followed with a general drying trend over the next several days. The extended forecast reveals a drying trend with the first expectation of significant snowfall occurring in early November.

The Crown Mountain Fire started on Oct. 4 and is burning about one mile in from the National Forest boundary south of the Benchmark Road. The USFS is warning drivers of heavy fire traffic along the Benchmark Road corridor, Smith Creek and in and around Augusta and urges people to avoid the Benchmark area.

The USFS has closed the area around the fire to public use. The area closure begins at where Benchmark Road 235 enters the National Forest (T19N, R8W, SW corner of sect 6) and heading due south along the Forest Boundary to where Smith Creek Trail 215 intersects the Forest Boundary on the southwest boundary of section 31. Then due east following the Forest Boundary to the intersection of trails 215 and Weasel Creek Trail 245 (T18N, R8W, NW corner of sect PB44). Follow Trail 245 southerly to where it intersects the Scapegoat Wilderness boundary (T18N, R8W, sect 12), then proceed northwest along the Wilderness boundary past the intersection with Crown Mountain Trail 270 and continue along the Wilderness boundary to (T19N, R10W, sect 12), then head easterly following the ridgeline to its junction with Benchmark Road 235 (T9N, R10W, sect 7), then proceed east along Road 235 to the point of the beginning.

The USFS Benchmark Road 235 is also closed. The closure begins at the junction with Forest Service Beaver-Willow Road 233. The closure extends for the entirety of Road 235. Trails 214, 215, 232, 244, 245 and 270 within the area are also closed.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. The USFS says there has been no recent lightning in the area and there have been numerous human-caused fires along the Rocky Mountain Front in the past several weeks. Please ensure any campfire is cold to the touch before leaving it unattended.

Kyle Inabit and Anthony Emacio are serving as incident commanders. They hope to have the fire contained by Oct. 31.

The fire is burning in the footprint of the 1988 Canyon Creek fire in steep, rugged terrain fueled by regenerated Lodgepole pine and heavy stands of Douglas fir. Smoke is visible from Choteau and Augusta and along U.S. Highway 287.

Resources on the fire Wednesday included two helicopters, one dozer, a skidgen, two hot shot crews and six engines. The USFS is using a full suppression strategy, focusing on point protection for threatened ranches and recreational residences.

For updated information, go online to inciweb.nwcg.gov.