Rain helps contain wildfire


August 26, 2021

Finally, with a little help from above in the form of welcome rains, this firestorm of 2021 seems to be mercifully over.

The Thorne Creek fire, the big event in Thompson Falls all summer long as it has worked its way southeast along the slopes of Silcox Mountain from its original starting point in the Graves Creek area, was stopped in its tracks last week when rainstorms moved into western Montana and thoroughly soaked Sanders County’s biggest wildfire of the year.

Ignited by lightning back on July 7, the Thorne Creek fire has dominated the headlines, and the local skylines, for much of the time since as four different incident management teams (IMTs) took turns managing the fire.

Listed at 38, 688 acres with 80% containment at last official count Tuesday, the fire caused the evacuation of dozens of homes but ended up not burning any in the end, a remarkable achievement considering the large amount of values at risk over a large area over the last several weeks.

Incident Commander Debbie Beard of the Southern Area Gold Interagency Management Team assigned to the Thorne Creek fire since August 13 put things into perspective. The fire was still burning actively when Beard and her team took over command but has quieted down tremendously since then.

“We would like to take credit but we received a lot of help from mother nature,” she said. “And it was not only a good amount, the rain was also of good duration, meaning it really soaked in.”

Given the large volume of rain which has fallen since August 17 when the storms first arrived (some estimates peg the amount received on some portions of the fire at three inches of precipitation or more) the Thorne Creek fire has quickly dropped into the mop up stage after almost six full weeks of active burning and growth.

At the height of Thorne Creek fire operations about 450 personnel were assigned to the incident. That number had dwindled to less than 200 by early this week.

“We have started rehabilitation of some areas and demobilized the majority of personnel,” Beard said Monday evening. “Basically we are pulling down camp and in the process of sending people home.”

Demobilization of personnel and equipment was expected to continue through Wednesday, when command of the fire was to be returned to the local unit, the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District at 7 p.m. that night.

As of Tuesday, the Graves Creek, Deerhorn, West Fork of Fishtrap and the West Fork of Thompson River road systems remain closed to the public. The Thompson River and ACM roads have been reopened and no private areas remain in evacuation or pre-evacuation status.

Beard said she gained an appreciation for the local community while dealing with the Thorne Creek fire. “The folks around here have been very gracious and kind to us throughout our stay,” she said. “We enjoyed our time working on this fire and would like to thank the community for their hospitality.”

Beard said her team will stand down for a short time before getting put back into the national IMT rotation for possible future assignments. The Southern Area Gold Incident Management Team operates mostly with personnel from the southeast U.S., from Texas to Florida to the Carolinas.

“There is a lot of need out there now in the Pacific Northwest and other places across the western U.S.,” she said. “We will get rested up and get ready for our next assignment.


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