Support Local Journalism


The wildfire burning north of Bozeman blew up Saturday afternoon to 7,000 acres, burning buildings and forcing people from their homes.

Though it seemed calm in the morning, winds between 10 mph and 20 mph and high temperatures fueled major growth on the Bridger Foothills fire. In the early evening, it jumped over Bridger Canyon Road.

Fire officials initially estimated that the blaze had reached 11,000 acres, but they revised that estimate down to 7,000 on Sunday morning. 

Officials ordered evacuations for Bridger Canyon, Kelly Canyon and the Jackson Creek area. A voluntary evacuation is in effect for the Brackett Creek area. Residents near Skunk Creek were warned. Bridger Canyon Road was closed from Story Mill Road to Sedan. 

An estimate on the number of structures lost will be conducted "as soon as possible," the Forest Service said in an update Saturday night.

One firefighter was injured Saturday due to a rolling rock, but was treated and released, according to the Forest Service.

Three firefighters were forced to use their fire shelters, but later left the shelters and reached safety, officials wrote. The firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation at Bozeman Health Saturday night.

More resources were ordered for Sunday. As of 9:30 p.m. Saturday, 120 people were responding to the fire.

Officials had anticipated the wind, and they expected it to continue through Saturday night.

“Luckily we knew this was going to happen with the weather, so yesterday and this morning, we’ve been providing warnings all day long,” Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said at a press conference Saturday afternoon. “Tonight is the big night… This wind event that’s coming through, we knew that this was happening, and we’re prepared for it.”

Twenty different agencies were responding Saturday afternoon, according to Gootkin. 

A cold front was predicted to move in on Sunday night. A red flag warning was in effect until midnight Saturday.

“Today and tomorrow are going to be our real tough days,” said Corey Lewellen, Bozeman district ranger for the Forest Service.

The fire started on the west side of the Bridger Mountains north of the “M” trail Friday afternoon. The cause is still under investigation.

It crested the ridge quickly and had grown to more than 400 acres by Saturday morning. 

Saturday morning, it appeared to have slowed down on the western and eastern side of the range. Helicopters took turns lowering buckets suspended from cables into a pond near Bridger Creek. After each load, they whizzed up the canyon walls toward Baldy Mountain, where flames licked blackened trees and puffs of smoke drifted upward.

“Safety is our number one concern. We’re doing everything we can for structures,” said Peggy Olliff, a fire spokesperson, at noon. “We’re being very aggressive with this fire.”

Four helicopters, four smokejumpers, four single-engine air tankers and two very large air tankers (VLATs) were stationed primarily on the eastern side of the Bridgers at around noon. A hotshot crew, one Type 2 hand crew and additional crews and dozers were also responding to the fire. 

The fire blew up in the afternoon. From the western side of the Bridgers, the large plume could be seen moving north as the winds picked up.

Then the evacuations began.

Evacuations were ordered first for Bridger Canyon and the Jackson Creek area. At about 5 p.m., the sheriff's office said on Facebook that the fire had jumped Bridger Canyon Road. 

The sheriff's office announced on Facebook at about 5:45 p.m. that it was beginning to order evacuations for the Kelly Canyon area. 

At around 7 p.m., the sheriff's office urged residents in Brackett Creek to "leave promptly," though the order wasn't yet official.

About 45 minutes later, residents of Park County were notified the fire was spreading their direction. A pre-evacuation notice was issued to people in Park County near Quinn Creek.

NorthWestern Energy reported power outages in Bozeman due to the fire a few minutes later via Twitter. An estimated 556 customers were affected, according to the outage map. No estimate was given for when power would be restored to the affected areas.

The Red Cross has set up an evacuation center at the Christ the King Lutheran Church for people displaced by the fire. A Facebook group was also formed to help connect people with resources.

Bozeman’s Salvation Army is accepting donations for firefighters, including bottled water, individual Gatorades and single-serving, non-perishable food at 32 S. Rouse between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday, the sheriff’s office wrote.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced Saturday afternoon that a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant had been secured to help pay for the fire response.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Helena Dore can be reached at or at 582-2628.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.