HELENA — While Sunday morning started out with a touch of fall, we were quickly reminded it's still fire season.
Shortly after noon, the first few calls came in reporting a wildfire burning on Mount Helena. The day was not hot yet, but the wind had already been gusting to 25 mph through the morning. Shortly after the fire started, a west wind gusted up the 30 mph and the fire was moving fast. Temperatures on the mountain were only in the upper 60s, but the humidity was dropping through the 20% range.
Sustained wind remained out of the west at about 20 mph with gusts topping out around 30 mph as the full suppression attack continued. At around 1:10 p.m., a slight wind shift occurred from the west to the northwest. Typically, wind shifts can be very dangerous and problematic to firefighters, but this shift may have steered flames away from some homes. Following the contour of the mountain, the fire burned up along the slope for a while instead of coming down the mountain to the north.
The northwest wind shift continued until about 2:30 p.m., with wind gusts commonly topping 30 mph and temperatures warming into the lower 70s. Humidity was around 20%, that's dry.
Another wind shift occurred before 4:00 pm, turning to the west southwest. The day's strongest wind happened with this shift, gusting to nearly 35 mph.
As afternoon turned into evening, wind gradually started to slow down but there still were a few gusts near 30 mph as late as 6:25 p.m.
These weather conditions could have easily allowed this fire to spread many more acres and towards homes had it not been for prior fire mitigation work, and the efforts of those firefighters on Sunday.