By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
GALLATIN GATEWAY – The Gallatin Gateway Community Center was standing room only on Wednesday night, with 200 people there to hear from the Gallatin National Forest Service about the fast growing Millie Fire, south of Bozeman in the Storm Castle drainage.
A detection flight found smoke from the lighting-caused fire at 1:05 p.m. Tuesday afternoon when it was only burning about a quarter of an acre, said district ranger Lisa Stoeffler.
By the time smokejumpers were on scene later that afternoon, the fire was burning 5 – 10 acres, Stoeffler said.
“By evening we had an 150-acre fire on our hands.” The warm temperatures in the 24 hours since, combined with steep, hard to access terrain, heavy fuels and erratic gusty winds had caused the fire to grow to approximately 1,000 acres by Wednesday evening.
The Forest passed papers around showing a map of the fire and a map of the area around it that’s closed to the public.
“It’s growing by the minute, so it’s all changing,” Stoeffler said.
An incident command team is set to arrive on Wednesday night, and take control on Thursday.
“They’re have highly trained pre-formed teams of firefighters, and they come with whole suite of resources to draw on,” Stoeffler said.
The current incident commander, Dan Cottrell, also addressed the crowd, expressing thanks to the local firefighters from Gallatin Gateway, who had been “up there from the get-go.”
“We got down from the fire a couple of hours ago. Our best guess is it’s about 1,000 acres.” A flight this morning had shown the blaze at about 600 – 700 acres, and Cottrell said it grew mostly on its eastern flank.
The Forest is concentrating on structure protection in the area around the Blanchard Ranch, a private inholding.
Currently 20 people were fighting the fire, he said, including a team of hotshots from Arizona, a Type II team from Oregon, 10 engines, a couple of heavy aircraft retardant planes, and helicopters dropping water.
“Be prepared for dealing with smoke for the foreseeable future,” Catrel said. It doesn’t seem we’re going to get a lot of relief in terms of weather.”
The Forest was prepared for the fire to spread toward the upper reaches of Little Bear and the head of South Cottonwood, said fire management officer Fred Jones.
While that’s indeed a concern, Stoeffler said, there is still time:
“We have the advantage of time—to get our hands around it, to be talking to people, to get out in front of it, and that’s what we plan to do.”
Sheriff’s Deputy Lt. Jason Jarrett pointed out that “if you had to pick a place to start a fire on Aug. 28, that’s not a bad one—I’m glad it’s not in Purdy Creek or in Big Sky. All in all, this is going very well—it’s not very nice, it’s smoky and stinky and hot—but here we are, it’s where we live.”