Fire officials are warning residents in the Seeley Lake area that the Rice Ridge fire could burn for months. (MTN News photo)

SEELEY LAKE – Hundreds of Seeley Lake residents showed up to a public meeting Thursday evening, eager for information on the Rice Ridge Fire.

Weather has played a big role in how the nearly 6,900 acre blaze is being fought and the warming temperatures on Friday will be a major test for crews.  One thing residents learned during the public meeting was the Rice Ridge Fire may continue burning until as late as October — or until what’s called a season ending event occurs.

“Typically it’s when we get snow,” explained Incident Management Team meteorologist Mark Struthwolf, “Because that keeps the relative humidity up high, it keeps the logs, the trees wet.  You could have two inches of rain in one day and then it dries out, that’s not a season ending event because it’ll just dry right out.”

Crews say the weather is one of the biggest factors to consider when fighting a fire, along with the landscape in which a fire is burning.

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The past few days the weather conditions have worked in firefighters’ favor, so crews have been able to battle to the Rice Ridge Fire’s southern tip, which is nearest to Seeley Lake.

“So the fire crews and the equipment are having a lot of success on that south flank, but the topography is a lot less steep, more gentle topography,” said Rice Ridge Fire Incident Commander Steven Goldman.

Winds and dry conditions on Friday are expected to test the work crews have done on that southern flank.  They’re hoping the lines they’ve dug hold up, but expect to stay around Seeley for the duration of the season.

“The reality is that fire’s going to keep moving down the slope towards the highway and we’re going to have to have a presence here to defend that.  And it’s also going to burn probably till a season ending event as it works its way into the Bob Marshall wilderness,” said Goldman.

Crews said fire spreading into the Bob Marshall Wilderness isn’t a huge concern due to a lack of structures in the area.  Law enforcement officials said, during the meeting, that evacuation warnings could likely be in place as late as October if the Rice Ridge fire continues to rage.

The American Red Cross announced on Thursday that they are setting up a shelter for residents heeding the pre-evacuation warnings issued for the Rice Ridge and Liberty fires burning near Seeley Lake.

The shelter will be located at the Potomac Community Center, 29827 Potomac Road. All evacuees are welcome. All Red Cross services are free.

MTN’s Eric Clements 

Lindsey Edwards shot the video below of a Canadian Super Scooper filling up in Seeley Lake to battle the Rice Ridge fire. | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana