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Lolo Peak Fire Officials Brace For Lightning Storm And New Fire Starts

tungsten shot of a bolt of lightning hitting the ground
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The National Weather Service has predicted strong dry thunderstorms for western Montana Wednesday night into Thursday, and Lolo Peak Fire Officials are preparing for the worst.

Fire information Officer Mike Cole said Lolo Peak Fire forecasters said fine fuels around the fire are ripe for ignition.

“The fuels are so dry and receptive to lightning right now, especially the light fuels,” said Cole. “We have what’s called the probability of ignition, and that is at 95 percent today, so, for instance, if you were standing in some grass or in a bed of needles, you could expect if you lit a hundred matches, 95 of them would start a fire.”

Cole said strong thunderstorms can create their own weather patterns over a fire.

“They sit on top of the fire and they have outflow winds, and some of those can gust to 45 or 50 miles per hour, especially coming out of the bottom of the thunderstorm hitting the ground and the wind will spread them 360 degrees,” he said. “That’s our concern that a thunderstorm will arc over the top of a fire either in the center, left, north or south, the right side over in the Bitterroot. That’s why the meteorologists are really tracking the path of this thunderstorm activity.”

He said firefighters will be  on storm watch all night long.

“We have 71 engines assigned to this fire,” he said. “A lot of those engines are going to be out tonight stationed at critical locations where if we have some new initial attack we’ll be able to get at it, or if we have spotting across the fire lines because of outflow winds of a thunderstorm, we can get to them real quick. We’ll also have crews out tonight, too.”

Regarding the gunshot incident in the Mill Creek area, Cole said he had never heard of something like that ever happening before. No one was injured, but fire operations were suspended temporarily.

The fire has grown to over 33,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, with over 1,200 personnel working on the fire. The cost of fighting the fire has surpassed $24.6 million.

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