Crown Mountain Fire

A column of dense smoke comes off the Crown Mountain Fire Oct. 6 in the early evening. The photo was taken from Montana State Highway 435 looking southwest toward the fire.

The Crown Mountain Fire, burning west of Augusta on the national forest, had grown from 300 acres to 1,301 acres by Oct. 10, according to the most recent U.S. Forest Service update.

Gusty winds, unseasonably high temperatures and dry conditions last week helped the fire grow.

The US Forest Service has deployed 140 personnel to suppress the fire on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest 16 miles west of Augusta, according to public information officer Chiara Cipriano. These dangerous conditions forced air and ground crews to disengage from the fire on Oct. 5 and 6, but the cooler temperatures and calmer winds in the Smith Creek area on Oct. 7 allowed crews to assess and employ direct tactics to keep the fire perimeter west of the Petty and Smith Creek confluence.

As of Oct. 10, firefighters had completed all point protection work in Smith Creek and the Benchmark corridor. Crews are ready to activate all the hose lays and sprinklers if fire activity necessitates.

Both interagency hotshot and aviation crews were again successful in keeping the Petty Creek perimeter cooled off throughout the day Oct. 10. Their containment priority continues to be preventing further northward movement beyond Petty Creek and any eastward movement toward the Forest boundary in Smith Creek.

The recent fire growth was to the southeast in Moudess Creek where it slowly backed against the prevailing winds yesterday into areas of the 1988 Canyon Fire footprint. Sunday morning, as expected, westerly winds were gusting at 40 mph to 50 mph. Firefighting conditions are very dangerous in this situation and crews would closely monitor and engage only when safe to do so.

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.

As of Monday, the USFS closed the Benchmark Road at the Forest boundary. The Crown Mountain, Jakie Creek, Moudess Creek, Petty Crown, Petty Crown Connector, Petty-Ford Creek, Smith Creek and Weasel Creek trails are all closed as is the Double Falls Campgrounds.

The USFS anticipates issuing a larger closure area bounded on the west by the Scapegoat Wilderness Area, on the north by the ridgeline from the Wilderness boundary to Fort Creek to Benchmark Road to the forest boundary, on the east the by the forest boundary and on the south by Weasel Creek Trail 245.

So far, the Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s Office has not ordered any evacuations.

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 include five helicopters, two dozers, a skidgen, two hot shot crews, two Type II initial attack crews and 10 engines. The USFS is using a full suppression strategy, focusing on point protection for threatened ranches and recreational residences. Installation of hoses, sprinklers and pumps was completed on the Goss and Weisner ranches on Oct. 6 and on Oct. 7 crews are doing the same for the Double Falls recreational cabins and the Ford Creek Guest Ranch.

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