A plume of smoke above the M became visible to Bozeman residents Friday night. PHOTO COURTESY @benjacobsenphoto

Bridger Foothills Fire at zero percent containment

Cause of fire remains under investigation

The Bridger Foothills Fire that kicked-off Friday afternoon is zero percent contained as of today. The cause remains a mystery and is under investigation, Corey Lewellen, Custer Gallatin National Forest Bozeman District Ranger said during the virtual public meeting held this afternoon. He further noted that it is a “large scale, complex fire,” and a long way from being put out. 

“This fire is going to continue to be here. We are going to continue to manage it for the long-term – obviously through September. Then even when that fire is completely out and we are able to get that thing contained, we are still going to be working this fire,” he said, noting a future emphasis on resources and rehabilitation.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin also spoke, noting that the high winds and quickly shifting nature of the fire created a perfect storm on Saturday.

“[It’s] pretty incredible that we did not lose anyone yesterday, with as quick as that fire moved and with everything that was going on,” he said.

A massive plume of smoke began billowing just above the M trail on Friday night, after its start on the west side of the Bridger Range.

“It was a pretty bad spot for the start of the fire – the bottom third of the slope. Fires tend to like to move uphill and of course everything aligned for that fire to move pretty quick – with the weather that we had on Friday, the orientation, the landscape and the fuels that we had,” Lewellen said.

Fire retardant, with its bright red hue, was periodically released. It was confirmed during Sunday afternoon’s meeting that structures have been lost, though the full extent remains unknown. The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office evacuated residents from Bridger Canyon Road, Jackson Creek and Kelly Canyon. Residents of Skunk Creek and Brackett Creek were warned. 

Gallatin County residents watched as hot shots jumped out of planes to use skill and effort against the blaze. A few had to deploy their fire shelters.

“We had some firefighters make some really good decisions in a really tough situation,” Lewellen, said of the firemen who are recovering from smoke inhalation sustained while fighting the blaze.

As of Sunday: the northwest corner has an unburned pocket of fuel and remains an area of growth. Potential continued growth off to the west as well as possibilities to the south – those are much lower possibilities –  but still there,” incident commander trainee Caleb Shreiber with the Bozeman Ranger District, AMFO Fuels Specialist said.

“From the very beginning this has been an all hands on deck approach,” Lewellen said. Unified command has been operational from the beginning, is currently how the effort is functioning and that is how it will continue, he stated.

“It has been an incredible engagement from everybody in our community,” he said, further noting the health and safety of firefighters and the public remains a priority.

To donate money to the Bridger Foothills Fire Relief Fund, text BRIDGERS to 91999 or give online at https://www.greatergallatinunitedway.org or https://www.onevalley.org

Volunteer opportunities can be found at www.volunteermt.org/need/detail/?need_id=539441

Follow Montana forest fires at inciweb.nwcg.gov

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