Sunrise Fire grows to more than 13,000 acres

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  • Burnout operations were conducted near Ambush Ridge, between Weaver and Whiskey Gulches above Donally and the old Smith Ranch. (Photo by Kevin Donally)

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    The Bay home located at Rivulet was put on Stage 1 Evacuation orders last week. Fire crews implemented structure protection as the Sunrise Fire moved in that direction. (Photo courtesy of Kavita Bay)

  • Burnout operations were conducted near Ambush Ridge, between Weaver and Whiskey Gulches above Donally and the old Smith Ranch. (Photo by Kevin Donally)

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    The Bay home located at Rivulet was put on Stage 1 Evacuation orders last week. Fire crews implemented structure protection as the Sunrise Fire moved in that direction. (Photo courtesy of Kavita Bay)

By Saturday, Aug. 5, the Sunrise Fire burning east of Superior had grown more than 3,000 acres in the past week to more than 13,000 acres. It was still one of the nation’s top priority fires. A meeting was held on Saturday at the Lozeau Lodge which has been hosting the public fire informational meetings. The lodge owners were awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Type II Team commanded by Shawn Pearson. Pearson’s group had been working the fire over the past two weeks and on Sunday, a Type I team took over. It is headed by Doug Turman along with the new public information officer, Kim Nelson. The Type I team has more members and “is more complex,” said the outgoing public information officer, Jill Cobb.

The fire was 15 percent contained on Saturday and continues to burn in steep terrain of subalpine and mixed conifer with single-tree torching and long-range spotting. The crews are continuing to work to slow the fire’s progression and keep the fire north of Quartz Creek. Structure protection was also being continued in Verde Creek, with the removal of fuel around homes and helicopter water drops in Verde Creek. Also, if conditions allow, the crews will use burning operations south of Verde Creek in the Brushy Creek drainage to slow the fires progression to the north.

To recap last week’s events, on Sunday, July 30 the Mineral County Sheriff’s office issued evacuation orders for residents along Verde Creek Road. Located on the northwest side of the Sunrise Fire. Evacuated areas included Sunrise Creek, Quartz Flats, Quartz Creek and Verde Creek. The Rivulet area located on the southeast end of the burning area was put on Stage 1 evacuation orders.

By Tuesday, Aug. 1, the area had grown to 9,900 acres with only 5 percent contained. The focus for Hotshot crews was protection for approximately 81 homes threatened in the area. After an inversion lifted in the late afternoon on Monday, fire activity increase according to a report by the Lolo National Forest. When conditions changed rapidly in the late evening, fire managers decided to burn around structures to protect them, including above the Donally and Smith/Gould ranches, according to a statement by County Commissioner Laurie Johnston. Flare-ups were seen on Ambush Ridge in between Weaver and Whiskey Gulches above the ranches.

Johnston said the fire crews also burned in Sunrise to bring the burn down and tie into the lines they had already put in the area. Sprinklers were on around the structures in the Quartz Creek area and the fire was holding on the dozer line on Verde saddle. The fire was at a cost of $8.5 million with nearly 500 crews fighting the blaze with 13 hand crews, which included five type one Hotshot crews, six helicopters, 34 engines, four dozers, 14 water tenders, a skidgens and a masticator.

Area residents also felt the effects of smoke as a strong inversion kept the smoke in the area. Visibility along Interstate 90 was less than a mile on Tuesday. The fire continued to grow on all three sides, north, east and south, as the blaze chewed through subalpine fir and mixed conifer and standing dead and downed trees. Hot and dry weather continued to plague Montana.

Evacuated residents could go to the gym open at the Superior High School and animals could be taken to the county fairgrounds. Michael Davidson, who is located near Petty Creek, also offered space for livestock.

BY AUG. 2 the fire had grown to 10,800 acres and was still only 5 percent contained. A strong weather inversion had kept smoke in the area late into the afternoon which also kept the fire behavior low. A cold front with easterly/northeasterly winds also moved into the area, resulting in cooler temperatures and higher humidity. Increasing fire activity in the Verde and Quartz Creek areas. An additional helicopter and dozer joined the teams. Meanwhile, other areas were being threatened by encroaching flames including Rivulet, Forest Grove, Lozeau and Cougar Creek. Firefighters had begun conducting structure protection assessments. Foam was also put on train trestles for fire protections and Montana Rail Link left water cars near wooded trestles in threatened areas.

By Aug. 3, the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office had moved Sunrise Creek and Quartz Flats back to Stage 2 Evacuation orders meaning residents of those areas would be allowed to return to their homes but are reminded to stay aware of changing conditions. Also on Aug. 3, Stage 3 Evacuation Orders were called for Quartz Creek and Verde Creek along road 450. The Rivulet area was put on Stage 1 Evacuation Alert.

The fire continued to grow and by Aug. 4 it had reached 12,300 acres with 10 percent containment. “Firefighters increased containment as they further secured the fire edge,” the online Inciweb report stated. Firing operations took place on both the northeast and southeast sides of the fire, “evening up containment lines on Quartz Road, and between Quartz Peak and Quartz Creek Road.”

Crews continued to work clearing downed trees and hazard trees on Quartz Road with helicopter drops used to slow fire spread into the Verde Creek area.

By Aug. 5 the fire had jumped to 12,900 acres. A shift in the wind direction caused slopes that had been sheltered to become more active. There was also reports of potential fire growth to the north and south which threatened structures in Quartz Creek and Verde Creek. Burnout operations were conducted around homes and structures in the Quartz and Sunrise Creek and Quartz Flats areas. Mop up operations was done around structures to secure control lines. A cold front was reported in the area which could bring an increase in winds and a shift to north-northwest which would cause more fire in previously unburned areas.

The Burdette Fire burning 13 miles southeast of Tarkio was 50 percent contained as of Aug. 5. It had burned 645 acres. The Type I Incident Management Team also took command of the Burdette Fire on Sunday, along with the Sunrise Fire.

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