Due to inaccessible terrain and rugged, steep conditions, the Missoula Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest is managing the lightning-caused Miller Gulch Fire with a confine and contain strategy, utilizing point-source protection, as needed around the valley bottom and Rock Creek.
The Miller Gulch Fire is located approximately 20 miles south of I-90 off of Rock Creek Road and a mile east and upslope of Bitterroot Flat Campground, and is burning on the upper third portion of a steep ridgeline.
After closely evaluating terrain conditions, expected weather patterns, and considering the relatively low probability for success to fully extinguish this fire, the decision was made to take a confine and contain suppression strategy, with point protection. By using natural features, existing prescribed fire project areas, and aviation resources, this strategy will limit exposure and therefore risk to firefighters due to the hazards associated with a backcountry fire environment.
Difficult risk management decisions are made on every wildfire. Many elements were considered in this process including:
Risk of firefighter exposure and the complexity of extractions in a medical emergency.
Proximity of the fire to Highly Valued Resources and Assets (HVRA) and the low likelihood of undesired impacts.
The fire is located north and west of the Cougar Creek Prescribed Burn (2010), an area where previous fuels reduction has taken place.
The fire is south of the Butte Cabin Creek and Howell Creek Prescribed Burns (2013); these are areas where previous fuels reduction has taken place.
Additionally, the new fire growth is toward the direction of areas that have burned in the recent past from the Fisher Point Fire (2007) and Little Hogback Fire (2017); these previously burned areas have less vegetation available for burning which will moderate fire behavior.
Natural cliff bands and rocky, vegetation-free areas exist around and within the fire which will also help to moderate fire behavior; additionally large cliff bands exist between the fire and valley bottom.
Time of year in the fire season and long-term forecast (shorter days, cooler temperatures, periodic precipitation).
Fuel types: grass, shrub and dead and down trees/heavy fuels (mixed Conifer/Ponderosa Pine).
Currently, there are no structures or infrastructure threatened by the fire. This Inciweb page will be updated as fire activity merits or every 3-4 days. As we continue with suppression efforts we want to note that it is possible the Miller Gulch Fire will be a long-term wildfire, with the potential to burn until a season ending event occurs. Due to variances in weather, topography and available fuels, some days the fire may become more active and produce more smoke than others.