Last Wednesday, Sept. 6, the last public meeting for updates on the Sunrise and Burdette fires was held by local fire crews.
Emotions ran high as both County Commissioner Laurie Johnston and Mineral County Sheriff Tom Bauer expressed gratitude to firefighters and community members for their patience and diligence during the past several weeks as the Sunrise Fire topped the list for national wildfire priorities in August, burning more than 26,000 acres and prompting evacuation orders for several area homeowners.
“The Quartz Creek area was my playground growing up,” said Johnston. She thanked everyone who worked so hard to save the homes in the area, “it’s been a very emotional and trying two months.”
Johnston grew up in the Quartz Creek area and her mother-in-law has a home there. Her husband, Kelly, is an independent contractor and has also been working bulldozing fire lines for the crews. She attended every public fire meeting over the course of the fire and posted daily updates on Facebook. Several local residents expressed gratitude and appreciation for Johnston’s work on keeping the public informed about firefighting activities.
Bauer also thanked the community for their cooperation when being asked to leave their homes while evacuation notices were being announced last month, “50 days later, we’re still here,” he said.
The meetings have been taking place at the Lozeau Lodge located at the Tarkio exit 55. Bill and Annie Bonetati hosted the meetings in their pavilion normally used for weddings and family reunions at their vacation venue.
Four small cabins are nestled behind the main lodge where people travel to enjoy outdoor activities Montana generally offers. Annie said their business didn’t really suffer as a result of the fires. The couple still have plenty of guests who showed up to fish, float the river and enjoy other outings despite the smoke and flames covering the mountains directly across Interstate 90.
Rick Connell’s Type II Incident Management Team stepped down last week and was taken over by Ken Parks Type III Management Team. Along with the team’s transition, most of the resources used to fight the Sunrise Fire have been sent to other fires burning across the region.
The Sunrise Fire is now 91 percent contained with 32 personnel left to fight the nine percent still burning. The fire remains active primarily in the southwest corner where it is uncontained and backing down into the Quartz creek area according to the Incident Information System InciWeb.
The Burned Area Emergency Response team is also 90 percent done with suppression rehabilitation work. The team works to stabilize soil erosion and water runoff which may increase and cause flooding. They also work to improve watersheds and community water supplies which may be at risk. The stabilization works began immediately after the fire was suppressed and will continue into next year.
There is only one helicopter left to drop buckets of water onto the areas still burning. However, incident team members assured the small gathering of about 30 people at the public meeting that if additional resources are needed they would get them back.
The Burdette fire is currently unstaffed and is being monitored from the air. It has remained at 649 acres over the past several weeks.