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Evacuations remain in effect as West Mullan Fire grows to 4,150 acres

By Will Wadley, KECI Weekend Anchor, wwadley@keci.com
Published On: Jul 18 2013 07:11:19 AM MDT
Updated On: Jul 18 2013 10:59:55 PM MDT
SUPERIOR, Mont. -

Fire officials say crews made significant progress in limiting further expansion of the West Mullan Fire Thursday, but evacuations remain in effect for 150 residences still in harm's way.

The blaze is now burning an estimated 4,150 acres with 23 percent containment. A total of 572 crew members are fighting the fire, and with all the crews and equipment the total cost to-date has climbed to about $2.8 million.

About 100 people attended an informational meeting held Thursday night at the Mineral County Courthouse.

Fire officials told the people there they weren't sure when evacuations would be lifted.

They say they expect fire activity visible from downtown Superior to diminish in the next few days.

Robert and Gail McGuinness, who were evacuated Tuesday, told NBC Montana the friends they're staying with have made the situation easier to handle.

"It's great, friends took us in, and we get to spend time with them," said Gail McGuinness.

Robert says he's also thankful for the firefighters who have worked to protect Superior from the fire.

"We pray that everyone of them stays safe, and that everybody is okay with all this," said Robert McGuinness. "We can always rebuild buildings, but we can't rebuild lives."

If you have any questions about the fire, call the informational hotline at 406-649-9032

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The following is the latest information from the Incident Management Team:

Fire Update:
Firefighters were able to make significant progress today limiting further expansion of the fire. Crews cleaned-up the fire’s edge on the southeast flank and expanded the line on the western perimeter. The fire was allowed to burn down toward Flat Creek Road and Superior where preparations were in place to stop further spread.  Engines and hoses were present around buildings to provide structure protection.  Dozer and hand line was constructed on the western edge coming upslope from the Dry Creek area. Crews worked along Keystone Road in preparation for advance of the fire downslope from the ridge.  Progress on the northern edge was limited because of firefighter safety concerns.

Tonight’s operations include structure protection, mopup of the line adjacent to Superior, monitoring fire activity in Flat Creek, and continued preparation activities along Keystone Road. Operations on Friday will be similar to todays.  Additional Divisions are being added on the western flank as suppression actions begin to shift. Preparation activities along Keystone Road will continue and areas will be scouted to identify containment locations. A large firefighter presence will remain along the southeast corner in Superior to mopup, prevent spread across the line, and protect structures. Actions on the northern edge will be determined by suppression activity elsewhere on the fire.

Weather conditions will continue to get warmer and dryer into the weekend, with maximum temperature and lower humidity conditions expected by Sunday.  Winds will be from the west and northwest primarily, but will be light.

The team’s focus for the near term is primarily to secure the western and eastern flanks of the fire to achieve containment and provide protection for the community.
Closures: The Clark Fork River has been closed to the public from Big Eddy Fishing Access site to Slowey Campground. The Big Eddy and Dry Creek Fishing Access sites are also closed.  Vista Trail just north of Superior has been closed to public access.
Evacuations: A road block is in place on the bridge in Superior crossing the Clark Fork River restricting access to the north. Pardee Road, East Pardee Road, West Mullan Road, Flat Creek Road, East Mullan Road to Big Eddy Fishing Access site, LaVista Road, and Keystone Road are under mandatory evacuation. 

An emergency center has been established at the Superior Elementary School by the Red Cross.

Special Concerns:  New fire starts!  The public is asked to stay clear of the helicopter dip site for their safety.  Residents are reminded that periods of heavy smoke may be a health hazard and are advised to limit their exposure. About 150 residences are threatened by the fire, but no structures have been damaged.  

More Information: Visit Inciweb at www.inciweb.org, email westmullanfire@gmail.com or call fire information 406-649-9032. A community meeting is scheduled for Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. at the Mineral County Courthouse in Superior.