Evacuations ordered for residents near Sunrise FireSource: NBC Montana
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MISSOULA, Mont. – According to the Mineral County sheriff, residents of Sunrise and Quartz Flats are now under Stage 3 evacuation. Officials say residents should leave the area immediately and in an orderly fashion.
Quartz Creek and Verde Creek still remain in Stage 2 evacuation warning.
The Red Cross confirms an evacuation shelter will be open for residents around 7 p.m. at Superior High School at 410 Arizona Ave. You can also call the Red Cross at 800-272-6668 for more information.
The Sunrise Fire, south of Superior and north of Tarkio, continues to burn about 1 mile from homes off Quartz Road, Verde Creek and Sunrise Creek. Some 60 homes and structures are currently believed to be threatened.
An immense amount of firefighting effort is going into structure protection as crews prepare for the worst.
Fire structure protection group trainee Erik Rodin says the fire will reach the Quartz Flats neighborhood as temperatures continue to rise. He says it’s not a matter of if, but when.
“It’s more or less inevitable that the fire will come this way,” he said. “We were told if it’s hot this week it’s supposed to be even hotter next week.”
In a record-setting hot July, Rodin says the virgin timber is at risk. However, Rodin has a plan.
“We’re fighting fire with fire,” he said.
A line of trees marks where the burning backcountry and homes meet. Rodin says crews are prepared to ignite a fire to burn up hill next to homes to prevent the main fire from traveling farther into the neighborhood.
“Once our fire goes up to the main fire it consumes all the fuels. So the main fire has nothing to eat, and then it kind of lays down. (Then) what will end up happening is we kind of herd the fire out into the open country where there’s no structures. We’re herding it around the neighborhood, so to speak,” he said.
At the base of the neighborhood on Quartz Road crews worked to clear trees, branches and debris. That is where Rodin predicts the fire will travel after they herd it around the perimeter of the neighborhood.
“And then as (the fire) torches trees and whatnot, we will have embers flying and engines patrolling to pick up any spot fires inside (the neighborhood),” Rodin added. “With the west wind pushing right at us, we’ll have to take action here to stop the main fire’s edge coming down at us. If the wind starts pushing this way it doesn’t have anything to stop it until it gets here.”
Rodin says clearing debris and lower branches is a critical step in fire prevention.
“(We call those) ladder fuels — when the branches go all the way to the ground. So when fire is on the ground, it will ignite those branches and carry up the trees. Once the fire is in the trees, it’s very difficult for us to control, as it’s in an aerial component at that point,” Rodin explained.
Crews placed dozens of orange vats called pumpkins at several properties in the area. The vats are filled with up to 6,000 gallons of water and hook up to residents’ sprinkler systems so their water wells don’t drain.
Rodin says they will also wrap some structures in a fire-resistant material similar to the material in fire shelters as an extra step of protection.
Public Information Officer Tom Rhodes says Wednesday is the first night crews will start overnight shifts to patrol roads and residential areas to start building a community presence.
There is an informational meeting at 7 p.m. at the Lozeau Lodge off exit 55 for members of the public. Residents may also call 406-822-9084 for more information.