Sheep Gap Fire threatens homes near Plains

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    Sheep Gap Fire Saturday night 11:40pm from HWY200 MM66 (Erin Jusseaume/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    Sheep Gap Fire Saturday night 11:35pm from HWY200 MM66 (Erin Jusseaume/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    Sheep Gap Fire Saturday night 11:30pm from HWY200 MM66 (Erin Jusseaume/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    The Sheep Gap Fire burns along the Clark Fork River west of Plains Saturday. Sections of River Road West have been closed and evacuations in the area began Saturday afternoon. (Jeremy Weber/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    Officials say that approximately 70 residents were affected by Saturday’s evacutation order. (Jeremy Weber/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    Sheep Gap Fire Saturday night 11:40pm from HWY200 MM66 (Erin Jusseaume/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    Sheep Gap Fire Saturday night 11:35pm from HWY200 MM66 (Erin Jusseaume/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    Sheep Gap Fire Saturday night 11:30pm from HWY200 MM66 (Erin Jusseaume/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    The Sheep Gap Fire burns along the Clark Fork River west of Plains Saturday. Sections of River Road West have been closed and evacuations in the area began Saturday afternoon. (Jeremy Weber/Clark Fork Valley Press)

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    Officials say that approximately 70 residents were affected by Saturday’s evacutation order. (Jeremy Weber/Clark Fork Valley Press)

The afternoon of August 28th a lightening storm that passed through the Plains and Thompson Falls area’s ignited approximately 20 fires. One fire being the Sheep Gap blaze that is still un-contained by firefighters at time of print.

With Red Flag warnings in place and high temperatures still expected with the record breaking heat for this summer, crews are battling the forest fire with all they have.

The area along River Road West has been closed on the corner of Section 11, near the road commonly referred to as the Arnold Road, west to the end of River Road West. There are approximately 70 residents that are immediately affected with the evacuation orders that went into action Saturday afternoon September 2.

The air quality that is currently being experienced in the area is of very low quality as the Sheep Gap burns there can be seen pillars of dark black smoke rising from the ridge tops.

The Sanders County Sheriff’s Office has been working closely with the U.S. Forest Service with regard to notifying those residents that are required to evacuate.

“They can stay at their homes if they really want to but assume responsibility for themselves by remaining inside the evacuated areas,” said U.S. Forest Service PIO John Hamilton.

He went on to express that when faced with the dangers of a large forest fire such like Sheep Gap, it is better for people to evacuate when they can.

Rather than waiting it out, should they decide to stay they are putting them selves at great risk.

He also expressed that those fighting the fires understand that residents don’t always want to leave their home, but, a fire can change in a blink of an eye; this is something that no on can control and all personnel involved want to see everyone safe.

With the latest updates coming through on Sunday morning there are now 211 personnel fighting the four major blazes in Sanders County with the bigger fires also receiving air attack support.

The Miller Creek fire is at 188 acres, but is currently unstaffed due to limited resources.

The Moose Creek fire is at 673 acres and is also unstaffed due to resources, However the structure protection specialists assessed the area north of the fire to develop future suppression objectives is needed.

Deep Creek fire is the second largest in the county and is currently sitting at 2,225 acres burned. Firefighters will implement point protection strategies and look for opportunities to utilize direct tactics while minimizing firefighter exposure to hazards.

Aircraft will continue to be utilized to keep the fire in check, though the Cougar Peak Lookout is currently threatened; they have structure suppression actions implemented. There is potential for spot fires over Graves Creek Road and Deep Creek if the expected winds continue.

Cub Creek fire is at 1,060 acres, firefighters will start direct and indirect line construction based on resource availability and priorities within the larger Highway 200 Complex. Much of the area surrounding this fire is roadless and will present access challenges to firefighters. Cub Creek is expected to continue growing to the East, driven by winds.

The Reader and Reader two fires though relatively small are being managed conjointly due to their close proximity, the blaze has now taken 144 acres.

Firefighters on the ground are working to establish a fire line around these two fires hoping to hold the fire line already developed. Wind along the ridge tops will continue to challenge firefighting efforts.

As these fires progress, pre-evacuation warnings are being issued to some residents in the areas of White Pine, Beaver Creek, and Little Beaver. All residents, should have an evacuation plan in place and know what you would do in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Sheep Gap which is of close proximity to the township of Plains has now burned over 4,706 acres. With the hot conditions and accelerated winds this blaze has been gaining close to a 1,000 acres each night.

Saturday night along HWY200 vehicles were pulling over along the dark highway in pull-outs to take photos as you could easily see large trees burning amongst the large red fire as it spilled down the mountain side.

Due to it’s aggressive nature, this fire is currently the top management priority. Its threat to private property and residences is very real with authorities constantly conversing across a range of departments.

Firefighters are continuing to check for and secure spot fires on the northern edge of the fire. They are also working to put structure protection measures in place and establish contingency fire line where possible. Aerial resources will be assisting firefighters on the ground to slow fire spread and suppress any spot fires caused by wind-driven embers.

Area closures are currently in place around the immediate fire areas and areas integral to safe fire operations.

The US Forest Service has asked that people respect area closures. The Forest Service is working to ensure that closures are kept to a minimum but are large enough for firefighter and public safety.

There is also a scheduled meeting for the residents in and around the Plains township to attend at the local High School for more detailed information Sunday afternoon.

At time of print, the US Forest Service has seen a Type II Incident Management Team set up in Plains having taken full command of the fires.

“We have created a Facebook page specifically for these fires in Sanders County. Residents can get up to date important information by searching and following Highway 200 Complex Fires,” said John Hamilton.

- American Red Cross of Montana opened a shelter Saturday at the Plains Aliiance Church, 505 W. 5th Street, in response to Sheep Gap wildfire evacuations. All evacuees are welcome at the shelter, and all Red Cross services are free.

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