Montana’s Elmo Fire Scorches Over 21,000 Acres, Is Halfway Contained

by Lauren Boisvert

The Elmo wildfire in Lake County, Montana grew slightly on Sunday from 21,327 acres to 21,345 acres. The containment percentage also grew from 30% to 55%. Cooler temperatures and lower winds over the weekend aided in containment efforts, as fire weather was critical during the week. The Elmo Fire was human-caused and began on July 29. Additionally, NASA has recently done a study to predict critical details about wildfires, and it could help prevent them in the future.

Previously there were evacuation measures for about 150 homes and structures around Lake Mary Ronan. Evacuations were recently lifted over the weekend as fire crews upped containment. So far the Elmo Fire has destroyed 4 homes, and 8 structures in total.

The Montana Free Press reports that this increase in fire activity has a direct correlation to the rising population all over Montana. Not only are there more homes and structures in urban areas, says the publication, but more people are living outside city limits. That means land designated “wildland-urban interface.” According to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan for Flathead County, the wildland-urban interface is “any location where a fire can readily spread from vegetation (wildland fuels) to manmade structures (urban fuels).” The plan states that these areas account for about 37% of the county.

The main issue with new residents moving to rural areas in Montana is that they may not know about the state’s history with wildfire, and how to make their homes and land fire-resilient. “We help people understand that they live in a fire-adaptive landscape,” forestry assistance specialist Ali Ulwelling told the Montana Free Press. “That we’re choosing to live in places that burn and have always burned.” 

FireSafe Flathead is an education program that aims to teach Montana residents how to create fire-resilient properties. New residents especially may not be aware of how to clear brush from their new rural areas. FireSafe Flathead teaches residents how to reduce burnable fuels on their property by thinning and clearing brush. The program also provides funding to rural landowners so they can have their brush cleared for them.

“If people are coming from an urban area to a rural area, they’ve got to be ready for the fact that help or a fire truck isn’t just a phone call away all the time, it could take time for us to get there,” said the fire chief of Big Mountain Fire and Rescue Ben Duvall. “I think some people are unaware of that reality.” 

What it comes down to is wildfire season is stretching longer throughout the year in the west. Higher winds and hotter temperatures create the perfect atmosphere for a wildfire. All it takes is one rural area full of flammable brush and you’ve got another Elmo or McKinney. Education and being proactive and mindful are key when it comes to preventing wildfires, especially in populated rural areas.