The Millie fire may come closer to some Gallatin County homes, but county and Gallatin National Forest departments are prepared.
That was the ultimate message for more than 100 residents who attended Thursday night’s community meeting addressing issues associated with the Millie fire.
“There’s been a plan in place for the last 10 years preparing for this,” said Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin. “Our folks are trained on it – we have it open, we have it ready to go.”
The decades-long preparation was in anticipation of such a wildfire as the Millie fire.
The fire grew 10 times its size Wednesday night, expanding to almost 10,000 acres in the Storm Castle Creek drainage.
Smokejumper Dan Cottrell said the fire didn’t progress much farther north and east Thursday after being stopped by a ridgeline.
Fire commanders tried to drop fire retardant at the ridgeline but it was too smoky to use tankers. Helicopters dropped water in an attempt to hold the fire, Cottrell said.
Past that ridge lies the Hyalite basin, and Cottrell said keeping the fire out of the basin would be the priority of the incoming Type 2 Incident Command Team, which takes over Friday morning.
If the fire manages to make a run into the Hyalite basin, retardant may be used. Commanders will weigh concerns about retardant contamination in Bozeman’s water with possible sediment fouling due to runoff after the fire is out. Cottrell said all options are still on the table.
An additional 20-person crew arrived Thursday, so 60 firefighters and 10 to 12 engines were working the fire, which still is not contained. Firefighters were able to hold the fire at Blanchard Ranch.
The explosive growth caused forest managers to close several areas and roads Thursday to ensure people didn’t wander into danger unknowingly, said ranger Lisa Stoeffler.
Storm Castle, Swan Creek and Moose Creek roads are closed. The Little Bear area and Hyalite and Leverich Canyons are closed, including cabins and campgrounds.
Some fire had extended into the top reach of South Cottonwood Canyon Thursday morning so an evacuation warning was issued for residents in that canyon. The sheriff’s office was also helping the Forest Service evacuate the Hyalite area.
An evacuation warning is notification that an evacuation may be needed. If conditions worsen, an evacuation notice will be issued. Residents should evacuate at that time, but no one will be forced to leave their homes, Gootkin said.
County 911 Director Kerry O’Connell suggested that residents ensure they can be reached by reverse-911. Reverse-911 immediately sends out recorded notifications, such as evacuation notices, to county residents who either have a landline or who have registered their cellphone numbers.
Many people asked if firefighters could predict the fire’s behavior: when the fire might threaten homes or when it might be contained.
Cottrell said he couldn’t predict anything but the weather forecast wasn’t favorable in the near future. Weather plays a part in fire behavior but so do terrain and available fuels.
“For projecting how long this fire would go, we were signed up for a 14-day assignment so that tells us that that’s the probability,” said incident commander Tom Suwyn.
Community meetings will continue every night at 6 in Hope Lutheran Church until the fire is contained. For information on the fire, go to http://www.inciweb.org/incident/3215/
Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or email@example.com.