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Update – Firefighters Protect Historic Blue Mountain Fire Lookout [AUDIO]

UPDATE – All evacuation orders have been lifted for residents in the Lolo Creek Complex.

Fire Information Officer Dixie Dees with KGVO’s Peter Christian

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About 11 miles up a winding mountain road, far above the smoke of the Lolo Creek Complex, the historic Blue Mountain lookout watches over a huge area of Western Montana. The tower is still several miles from the northern edge of the fire, but officials are taking the extra steps to protect the wooden structure, just in case the fire might reach the summit.

Blue Mountain Lookout workers
Photo by Peter Christian

Group supervisor in charge of protecting the tower and the adjoining Blue Mountain Observatory Scott Waldron said the project is being done in the off chance that the fire might threaten the structures.

“We’re concerned that the fire might get here,” Waldron said. “This tower is pretty historic, so we’re protecting it with fire-wrap to keep it from burning. We’re also putting sprinklers in, so that if the fire starts heading this way, we can start watering the area. We’re also doing a little more extensive thinning of timber to create a defensible space.”

Waldron said the tower is not only a sightseeing attraction, but has also played a part in a 1950s Hollywood movie.

“This lookout tower was in a movie called ‘Red Skies of Montana‘ in the 1950′s, which makes it historic in its own right,” Waldron said.

The movie, filmed on location in 1952, starred Richard Widmark and Jeffrey Hunter.

Group Supervisor Scott Waldron

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The Blue Mountain lookout tower was built in 1957, and was originally placed at Davis Point, but was moved to Blue Mountain in 1966 to replace an older timber tower. The lookout has been closed for the summer for repairs, and is not even being used to watch the Lolo Creek Complex fires. Once the fire has been contained, another crew will make the trip to the summit and remove the fire wrap.

Blue Mountain Observatory
Photo by Peter Christian

The nearby Blue Mountain Observatory is a stone building that does not require protection itself. However, the telescope inside the structure has been wrapped to keep it from being damaged, should the fire sweep over the area.

From the summit of Blue Mountain, the helicopter air show was evident, as one by one the aircraft dropped buckets of retardant mixed with water on the northern edge of the fire. Just below the lookout, about a mile and a half away, the 500-kilovolt BPA power lines trace up the mountainsides and down the valleys, carrying electricity to cities throughout the northwest. At one point, the northern edge of the fire was about a mile from the lines, but every effort has been made by hand crews and aircraft to keep the fire from getting too close.

While observing the helicopter drops, Fire Information Officer Dave Schmitt remarked that down in the fire camp, crews in Montana have been joined by firefighters from north of the border.

“We have 110 Canadian firefighters that are in Lolo now,” Schmitt said. “They’re going through an orientation process, then starting tomorrow. Those firefighters will be distributed amongst several fires in the area. We have the Northwest Wildfire Protection Pact with Canada, and that’s how we got the scooper planes. Now, we’re getting actual people to help us with the wildfires.”

Fire Information Officer Dave Schmitt

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