Highway 12 Closed – Homes Evacuated Due to Rapid Growth of Schoolhouse and West Fork 2 Fires [AUDIO]
UPDATE 4:15 p.m. Monday, August 19
Mandatory evacuations are in effect in the Bear Creek area as two fires, the School House and the West Fork 2, are combining to burn hundreds of acres and send smoke billowing up over Blue Mountain raining ash on homes in Lolo and into Missoula.
Missoula County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer paige Pavalone said at about 4 p.m. Monday, that deputies were contacting residents in the path of the fires to leave their homes immediately.
"We're asking people if they're asked by a deputy to evacuate, to leave their homes right away, recover their animals and leave as quickly as possible," Pavalone said.
The Missoula County Sheriff's Office Facebook page has a minute-by-minute update of areas that are under evacuation. Just moments ago, the notice was posted that Bear Creek, Elk Meadows, Lolo Creek Campground, Sleeman Creek and Thayer Road have been advised to evacuate, and that the Lolo Elementary School has been opened as a place for evacuees to gather.
There will be a special meeting for residents in the area at the Travelers' Rest State Park at 6 p.m. Monday.
The smoke billowing above Missoula on Monday, August 19 comes mostly from the Schoolhouse Fire, currently burning about nine miles west of Lolo. The Missoula County Sheriff's Department announced that Highway 12 was closed from Lolo to the Idaho Border. Fire engines from Missoula will be patrolling Highway 12 today, informing citizens about the rapidly growing blaze.
Also, between seven and eight homes in Bear Creek were forced to evacuate. There are likely to be more evacuations in the near future, but the DNRC and the sheriff's department are still trying to figure out where the evacuated families can stay.
The fire was only about 15 acres on Sunday, but according to Fire Information officer Cindy Super, it grew at an alarming pace.
"The fire burned pretty actively throughout the night," Super said. "When we were able to get up and take a closer look at it this morning they were estimating it at 250 acres."
That 250-acre estimate was given before noon, but by 3 p.m. the estimate was around 700 acres and growing.
Super said that, ideally, the Schoolhouse fire would be fought with hotshot crews, heavy air tankers and lots of helicopters. However, bigger fires in Idaho and around the country have made it difficult to get resources.
"Luckily this fire's not threatening structures at the time, but on a national basis, the priority of this fire is kind of pushed to the bottom," Super said.
Authorities are asking travelers on Highway 12 not to stop and watch the wildfire, doing so can back up traffic and make it harder for crews to battle the fire.
A fire management team currently monitoring the Nimrod fire is expected to take over the Schoolhouse fire in the near future.