Paola Ridge and Whale Butte Fires Update, Sept. 10

By | September 10, 2018

Fire Information: 406-578-8256,  8:00 am – 8:00 pm


Website: Paola: Whale:

Flathead National Forest Facebook: Twitter: @FlatheadNF

Special Notes: PLEASE DO NOT STOP ALONG HWY 2 TO OBSERVE THE PAOLA RIDGE FIRE. Fire crews are actively working in this area. Congestion along Hwy 2 may prevent crews from working safely and efficiently.

Weather: A low pressure system is forecast today. This system will bring a 35% chance of light rain showers in the areas of the Whale Butte Fire. It will also cause an increase in winds from the southwest with possible gusts up to 30 MPH in the valleys and 40 MPH at the ridge tops. Temperatures in the valleys will remain in the 60s and in the 50s on the ridges. Relative humidity levels will remain consistent, with lows of 32%. An active weather pattern is moving into the area over the next several days, bringing cooler temperatures and increased chances of rain. Low temperatures around the freezing mark are possible every night this week.

Paola Ridge Statistics
Location: 2 miles NW of Essex, MT
Start date: August 11, 2018
Size: 919 ac. Completion: 45%
Cause: Lightning Injuries: 1
Estimated cost: $2.6 Million
Crews: 2 Engines: 4
Dozers: 1 Personnel: 72

Paola Ridge: The combination of dry weather and wind has kept this fire active. On the north, the fire continues to back through old timber towards the dozer line along the railroad tracks with some single and group tree torching. Yesterday, crews successfully performed hand firing operations from the edge of the northern perimeter to the existing handline along the top of Paola Ridge.

Today on the northern perimeter, as weather permits, firefighters will continue firing operations on the slope west of the railroad tracks. Frequently, firefighters will ignite fires in the path of an oncoming wildfire in order to burn the nearby vegetation and deprive the larger fire of fuel before it arrives. In addition to hand torching on the ground, firefighters may conduct firing operations from helicopters flying overhead. These aircraft will drop plastic spherical devices (PSDs), informally known as “ping pong balls”.  PSDs ignite on impact with the ground. If weather conditions allow, PSDs may be used with helicopter water drops supporting the operation.

Surveillance by the structure protection group is ongoing in the Pinnacle, Essex, and Dickey Creek areas.

The Paola Ridge Fire is managed with multiple operational objectives of 50% “Full Suppression” in areas safe for fire firefighter access; 25% “Confined” (restricting the fire to a defined area, primarily using natural barriers) and 25% “Monitoring” the fire.  Operational objectives are 45% complete.

Whale Butte: The Whale Butte Fire remains in a condition that requires patrol, monitoring and debris removal. Fire activity remains minimal with some heat in areas of spruce and cedar timber. Hotspots within the perimeter will continue to burn themselves out. No significant increase in fire activity is anticipated. Heavy equipment operators continue to work diligently to process loads of slash and debris along the Spruce Creek Road. Debris clearing will continue in this area for several more days. Once this work is completed, the rehabilitation of dozer lines will begin.

Whale Butte Statistics
Location: 10 mi. NW of Polebridge, MT
Start date: August 12, 2018
Size: 515 ac. Completion: 86%
Cause: Lightning Injuries: 1
Estimated cost: $2.2 Million
Crews:  1 Engines: 1
Skidders: 4 Personnel: 62

The Whale Butte Fire is managed with operational objectives of 50% “Full Suppression” in areas safe for firefighter access and 50% “Confined” (restricting the fire to a defined area, primarily using natural barriers) for a total of 100%. These operational objectives are 86% complete.


Crews are prepared to take initial attack actions on any newly detected fires as needed.

Updates for the Coal Ridge Fire will continue to appear on InciWeb. Please see:

Evacuations: Flathead County Sheriff issued an evacuation warning for a small number of residents near Essex, effective at 12:00 noon on August 15, 2018. For more information go to or follow @FlatheadOES on Twitter and Facebook. No evacuation warnings are in place for the Whale Butte Fire.

ClosuresClosure Orders are in effect on Flathead National Forest within the vicinity of the Paola Ridge and Whale Butte fires.Closure areas were reduced on September 5th, but there are still closures in place. Red Meadow Lake Campground is OPEN. For specific information, please see the Flathead National Forest website below or the “closure” section on the fire InciWeb pages as listed above. 

No fire restrictions are currently in place on Flathead National Forest. Remember to use caution with fire while enjoying your public lands. One less spark, one less fire.

Aircraft Assigned:  All aircraft are shared among the fires within Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest being managed by Mike Goicoechea’s Northern Rockies Type 1 Incident Management Team. Two Type 1 and three Type 3 helicopters are currently assigned to the incident.

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is in place over the Paola Ridge Fire area. If you fly a drone over a fire, air operations could be suspended. If you fly, we can’t.

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About NFNews Editor

Patti Hart is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Patti lives on the North Fork during the summers and travels the world for the rest of the year, updating NFNews every day wherever there is an internet connection.

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