Shedhorn Fire

Smoke can be seen in this photo of the Shedhorn fire in the upper Taylor Fork drainage in Custer Gallatin National Forest. The fire was reported Monday afternoon.

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A wildfire that started in the Custer Gallatin National Forest between Big Sky and West Yellowstone on Monday doubled in size by Tuesday, growing to an estimated 64 acres, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

The Shedhorn fire grew after the presence of a drone in the area grounded firefighting aircraft on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday afternoon, a second drone grounded firefighting aircraft again.

“A second day of aircraft being grounded — including tankers, helicopters, and air attack — is resulting in increased fire activity on the Shedhorn Fire this afternoon and firefighters having to take a more indirect suppression approach,” officials wrote in an update.

The Forest Service told people with information about the drone or its operator to contact the Custer Gallatin National Forest. People can contact the national forest with tips at 406-570-5526, said Marna Daley, a spokesperson for the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

The Shedhorn fire, first reported on Monday at 4 p.m., torched timber and grass in steep and rugged terrain along Upper Tumbledown Creek in the Taylor Fork drainage. The cause of the fire was still under investigation on Tuesday.

Portions of the fire were burning in the Taylor Hilgard Unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, said Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan, another spokesperson for the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

A helicopter and air tankers were also headed to the fire that afternoon, but aircraft were grounded because of a drone flying in the area, Leuschen-Lonergan said. She did not release any details about why the unknown drone was there.

“Drones are not allowed over fire because they do have the ability to cease all air operations,” Leuschen-Lonergan said. “It really hampers air operations and puts both firefighters on the ground and firefighters that are doing air operations in danger.”

There were 40 people working on the Shedhorn fire on Tuesday. Helicopters and air tankers had planned to work the fire ahead of an advancing cold front, which was expected to settle near the fire area in the afternoon.

A second drone grounded air resources on Tuesday, which officials said hampered the air attack.

Because a wreck could occur, the drone and aircraft can’t utilize the same air space at the same time, Daley said.

“The fire is experiencing increased activity as a direct result of the lack of aviation support,” she said. “Ground crews are reworking their tactics for suppression.”

Daley wasn’t able to confirm whether the second drone was the same device reported Monday or whether it was a separate incident. An investigation was underway to find the drone operator on Tuesday afternoon.

Interfering with firefighting efforts on public lands is a federal crime punishable by up to 12 months in prison. Additionally, any drone pilot who interferes with wildfire suppression efforts could face a civil penalty of up to $20,000 in fines.

Fire managers on Tuesday predicted there would be some precipitation, but the chances of significant rain showers were low. No closures were in place around the fire by the afternoon.

Strong and gusty winds were expected to arrive before the cold front passed through. Officials expected that front to bring cooler temperatures along with higher relative humidity.

No area closures were in place Tuesday afternoon.

Fire restrictions have been lifted in all ranger districts of the Custer Gallatin National Forest apart from the Sioux Ranger District in southeastern Montana and South Dakota.

The Forest Service is still urging the public to be aware of dry conditions, even into the fall. People should always put their warming fires dead out — which means cool to the touch, they wrote.

Leuschen-Lonergan said a hard frost killed lots of vegetation across the forest following a long hot, dry summer. That primed fuels for fire. Rainstorms in late August put a damper on this year’s fire season but didn’t end it, she said.

“People going out and recreating or hunting for bow season — we really need people to put their warming fires completely out,” Leuschen-Lonergan said.

That means “stirring, pouring water on the fire, stirring again, and then feeling with the back of your hand and having that be cold to the touch,” she said.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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