UPDATE - Saturday, August 31, 10:30 a.m.

According to a news release from the Missoula City Fire Department, the grass fire Friday night was caused by a lightning strike that struck a Northwest Energy power line. It appears that the lightning struck a cross member near the top of the pole and caught fire, dropping embers to the ground, catching the grass on fire.

The fire is estimated to be about 80 acres in size, and was 100% contained, however, crews will remain on the scene throughout the day to mop up any hot spots.

Two small fires were spotted north of Missoula on Friday evening, August 30. Boyd Hartwig, spokesman for the Lolo National Forest, said the first fire was burning in rugged terrain in the Rattlesnake Wilderness area.

"The fire started northeast of Point Six up in the Rattlesnake Wilderness, and was burning in about two acres, so we put some helicopters on it," Hartwig said. "Its remote, and real steep rocky terrain, and we'll probably put some staff on that fire tomorrow, but there are no structures threatened at this time."

The dense column of smoke that could be seen from most of Missoula actually came from a grass fire near the Allied Waste disposal area.

"That fire is located northeast of Waterworks Hill on private land that is currently being suppressed," Hartwig said. "There's a multi-agency response to that fire, with three single engine tankers, five helicopters, ten engines and a bunch of firefighters, That fire was being pushed by the wind towards Duncan Drive, and that's the column of smoke people could see north of town. We've got a lot of resources on it and it looks like they're being pretty effective."

Hartwig said the cause of the Rattlesnake Wilderness fire was probably lightning from the storm on Thursday night, however, the cause of the grass fire near Allied Waste is still under investigation.

Lolo National Forest Spokesman Boyd Hartwig

Photo by Peter Christian