SEELEY LAKE – New evacuation orders for the Rice Ridge Fire impact more than 500 homes near Seeley Lake, and unpredictable winds and continued high temperatures are to blame for the flare up.
There’s an exodus from Seeley Lake as nearly 600 homes were evacuated as the Rice Ridge Fire continues to rage. The call came in at just after 6:30 p.m. on Monday in an unexpected turn of events for crews battling the blaze.
Crews were shoring up a fire line and for most of the day, the weather favored the firefighter’s efforts.
“The winds were coming out of the west and pushing fire right where we wanted it to go, but the winds shifted,” Fire Information Officer Erin Fryer said.
The winds began blowing from the north, pushing fire south toward town, “Within probably a matter of a half an hour. It was a pretty significant, pretty fast-moving situation,” Fryer said.
Because of the rate at which the fire was growing, the Missoula County Sheriffs Office made the call to evacuate hundreds of homes.
“North of Seeley Lake from Tamaracks Resort coming all the way back to town and through town to south Boyscout Road,” Missoula County Sheriff’ss Office Captain Anthony Rio said.
“There may be additional roads, there may be additional people put on an evacuation order, so it really just depends on how the night plays out and we’ll have deputies working around the clock to try to get those families notified,” added Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Brenda Bassett.
Although the fire spread to unexpected and perilous areas, crews said there is one silver lining: it’s moving toward flatter, lower lands. “That will allow the firefighters to hopefully make a little bit more headway in there,” Fryer said.
People are asked to avoid stopping on the shoulder of the highway to watch the fire and aircrafts and above all, crews ask that under no circumstances should anyone fly a drone near the fire, as doing so forces fire fighters to ground air suppression.
“If that happened early in the day, that would mean we potentially have an entire day where we didn’t have air support, and in growth like what we saw today, if we didn’t have that air support, we could have a lot more people threatened,” Fryer said. “We just don’t want to take that chance.”
The Red Cross has opened a shelter for evacuees at the University Congregational Church at 405 University Avenue in Missoula. All evacuees are welcome and there is no cost to stay in the shelter. However, they are allowing service dogs only.
There’s also no school Tuesday for students of Seeley Swan High School due to this latest evacuation — classes for all high school grades was supposed to begin Tuesday morning.
Missoula County Public Schools is working with the Sheriff’ Office to decide what’s next regarding alternative locations “if needed” or to determine when the school can safely open again.
Classes have not yet started for elementary and middle school kids in Seeley Lake.
The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office reports the following areas are now under an evacuation order:
- The junction of Highway 83 and Cedar Lane northeast to Morrell Creek Road. The boundary continues along the Cottonwood Lakes Road east to the Forest Boundary.
- Cottonwood Lakes Road at the Forest Boundary and south to the northern boundary of the Double Arrow.
- The junction of Highway 83 and Whitetail Drive east to the junction of Whitetail Drive and Dolly Varden. The southern boundary continues east to include the area north of the Commons Area and eastward to the intersection of Montana Drive and South Canyon Drive, continuing southeast along Montana Drive to the junction with Glacier Drive and then south to the junction with Double Arrow Road including Pyramid Loop and all areas in the Double Arrow Subdivision to the south and east.
- The junction of Highway 83 and Cedar Lane south to the junction of Highway 83 and Whitetail Drive.
The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office reports the following areas are now under (a new) evacuation warning:
- The Missoula County Sheriff has also extended the evacuation warning to include the area from the south Boyscout Road north to Tamaracks Resort, west of Highway 83 and east of the lake.
Authorities report that approximately 580 homes are covered by the latest order. The Rice Ridge fire has now grown to over 27,800 acres and is 22% contained.
An evacuation order on Thursday along Forest Service road 17507, which runs north into North Cottonwood Canyon, remains in effect.
An evacuation warning has been issued for residents in the Kozy Korner Meadows area beginning in the 7500 block of Woodworth Road and running west to Cottonwood Lakes Road, then north through the Rich Ranch also is still in effect. There are 15 homes in the warning area.
Residents on the east side of Highway 83, south of Rice Ridge Road to — and including the Double Arrow subdivision — also still remain under an evacuation warning.
Seeley Lake residents are urged to sign up for Smart911 to ensure they receive any emergency messages about potential evacuations. Fire information booths are being staffed at the Valley Market and Rovero’s Hardware Store on Highway 83 in Seeley Lake from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.
For those in the area who have not yet received the order to evacuate, the American Red Cross has the following advice:
- Download our free Wildfire app.
- Gather your family or household members and delegate responsibilities.
- Assemble an emergency kit to take with you when you evacuate. Click here for a detailed list of items to include.
- Prepare an information kit with important documents like medical, banking, and insurance records.
- Save a list of emergency numbers on every cell phone.
- Plan ahead for your pets and livestock. Ask local officials where you can bring them.
- Identify a place to meet in case you are separated.
- Plan and practice several evacuation routes from your neighborhood.
?If an evacuation is imminent:
- Tune in to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.
- Limit exposure to smoke and dust. Keep indoor air clean by closing (but not locking) windows and doors. Close curtains, shutters, and blinds. Use the recycle mode on your air conditioner.
- Turn on exterior lights.
- Remove flammable items from decks and porches.
- Open gates for animals that cannot be evacuated.
- Connect a hose to an outside spigot, mark any water sources on your property, and leave a ladder for firefighters.
- Put your emergency kit in your car. Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape, with windows closed and keys in the ignition.
- Put your best driver at the wheel. Turn on lights, drive slowly and watch out for emergency vehicles.
Evacuate as soon as the order is given. Don’t delay.
On Monday afternoon, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks closed Seeley Lake to all recreational activities. This includes swimming, fishing, boating and wading.
FWP reported that fire crews are using the water to fight the Rice Ridge Fire. The lake will be closed for public safety, effective immediately.
The closure is in effect until further notice. When fire crews no longer need the lake for suppression efforts FWP will reopen it.