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Crews harness lightning-sparked wildfire in Gallatin Canyon

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The Karst Fire began with a lightning strike on July 20 near Moose Creek Campground in the Gallatin Canyon near Karst. PHOTO BY LIAM KESHISHIAN

Forest Service implements Stage 1 fire restrictions

By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Staff

GALLATIN CANYON – A small wildfire that began yesterday with a lightning strike in Gallatin Canyon is now contained, according to local officials. The containment came as the U.S. Forest Service implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions in the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Emergency crews responded at approximately 5:30 p.m. yesterday to a reported lightning strike and wildfire near Karst Stage along U.S. Highway 191 in Gallatin Canyon. The rapid response, officials said, kept the fire from growing in southwest Montana’s tinder-dry conditions.

The Big Sky Fire Department initially sent firefighters and an engine before they were joined by U.S. Forest Service personnel and a helicopter from the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

The blaze was limited to one-tenth of an acre in size and was considered contained at approximately 10 a.m. today, according to Marna Daley, public affairs officer with the Forest Service. The lightning ignited the fire on a ridgetop near Moose Creek Campground in steep terrain, an approximate two-mile hike up the western flanks from Highway 191.

The Forest Service responded with crews to dig fireline and a helicopter to provide water drops from the Gallatin River, Daley wrote in a July 21 text message to EBS. “Firefighters are continuing mopping up efforts until early this afternoon,” Daley said in the text.

Amid a drought-plagued summer in southwest Montana, response time is critical and BSFD Battalion Chief Jeff Bolton said multiple crews were rapidly deployed to the scene to battle the fire, which started in grass and saw single-tree torching.

“We got a lot of resources quick and have a really good handle on it,” said Bolton, who was the initial incident commander for the Karst Fire before turning it over to Forest Service officials. “We feel like we’re in very good shape.”

Today, July 21, the Custer Gallatin National Forest implemented Stage 1 restrictions, banning any open fires including those in designated metal campfire rings, as well as all target shooting outside of official shooting ranges. Similar restrictions exist in Gallatin and Madison counties.

In a statement issued yesterday, Daley referenced the persistent drought conditions that have continued to worsen across the Custer Gallatin Forest as hot, dry and windy weather persists.

“We recognize having a campfire to roast marshmallows or enjoying an afternoon target shooting with friends is an enjoyable experience,” Daley said in the statement. “We look forward to the time when conditions on the national forest allow us to provide these opportunities again.”

Under the expanded Stage 1 restrictions:

  • No fires of any type are allowed, even in developed sites and metal fire rings.
  • Stoves fueled solely by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels may be used.
  • Smoking allowed onlywithin an enclosed vehicle or building.
  • Target shooting outside of designated and managed shooting ranges is not allowed.
  • Fires are not allowed within designated or recommended wilderness areas.
  • Fires are not allowed at recreation residences, organizational camps or other developments under permit. 

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