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UPDATED: Fire ignites in Taylor Fork drainage

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By Bella Butler and Joseph T. O’Connor

Last updated at 4:30 p.m. Updates will appear in chronological order. Scroll down for the most recent news.

Sept. 28, 12 p.m.

BIG SKY – A wildland fire is currently burning in the Taylor Fork drainage south of Big Sky.

The Big Sky Fire Department responded to a smoke report at approximately 4 p.m. on Sept. 27 before transferring incident command over to the Forest Service once it was clear that the fire was burning on forest service land.

The Shedhorn Fire was burning at 64 acres with zero containment in Upper Tumbledown Creek area of the Taylor Fork drainage as of noon today. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.

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The Shedhorn Fire shortly after it ignited in the Taylor Fork drainage on Monday afternoon. CUSTER GALLATIN NATIONAL FOREST PHOTO

According to Marna Daley, Custer-Gallatin National Forest spokesperson, 40 firefighters including smoke jumper crews, BSFD and CGNF crews are working on the fire today to get ahead of a cold front that’s forecasted to move in this afternoon.

“With the cold front coming into the area, it’s bringing cooler and hopefully wetter conditions but it’s also bringing in strong winds,” Daley told EBS. “We could see expanded fire behavior.”

A CGNF report said that while some precipitation is expected for the area, the chance of a wetting rain is low.

According to Daley, no structures are currently threatened and no resources are at risk.

Multiple aircraft are providing support from the air today. Last night, aircraft were grounded due to a drone being in the area. Drones are prohibited from flying near wildland fires as they hinder suppression efforts.

“A reminder to people: find a different location to fly your drone, just not over any wildland fire,” Daley said.

Sept. 28, 3 p.m.

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A helicopter flies past Lone Mountain en route to the Shedhorn Fire. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

For two days in a row, officials have had to call off flights to map the Shedhorn Fire from the air as well as water drops that are crucial in the early days of a wildfire, according to Jay Fassett, Type 3 incident commander for the fire.

“When they fly, we can’t,” Fassett said. “Everything goes away, in the middle of whatever they’re doing. The helicopters went back to Ennis, the air attack went back to Bozeman.” Drones pose a serious threat to air operations and can take aircraft out “like a bird strike.”

“If we can’t use aircraft, obviously it becomes harder because there are lots of snags in the area and there’s just areas we’re not going to put people for safety,” Fassett added.

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Missoula-based smokejumpers pack their gear before riding in to battle the Shedhorn Fire looming in the background. PHOTO BY JOSEPH T. O’CONNOR

With air operations on hold, 41 firefighters are left to work the fire on the ground. The incoming cold front will bring in erratic, gusty winds and is anticipated to be over the fire around 6 p.m., according to Forest Service officials.

Two 20-person hand crews have been ordered and are expected to arrive tomorrow.

“If we can get the aircraft back up, we will continue to cool down the edges,” Fassett said, adding that the Shedhorn is an especially spotty fire, in part due to the subalpine fir its burning in.

“When they torch, they throw thousands of spots,” he said. 

Resources are tough to come by in fall and especially given the 2021 fire season, Fassett said. Usually, fire seasons rotate throughout the regions in the West, but especially hot and dry conditions this year torched that pattern as fires burned millions of acres across the West since June. Wildfires like the million-acre Dixie Fire deplete critical national resources, Fassett said.

Missoula Smokejumper Base Manager Tory Kendrick added that personnel has also been a challenge. “They just don’t have many people and there aren’t a lot of firefighters this time of year,” he said. “A lot of the students have gone back to school.”

EBS will update this article as information becomes available.

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