Cooler weather couldn't have come at a better time for firefighters battling the fastest-moving, and one of the most dangerous fires we've seen this season in Western Montana.

And while the rain today, and showers the next couple of days, won't extinguish the River Road East Fire, it will give fire teams a chance to make headway and prepare for the return of warmer weather later this week.

And they'll need that margin to tackle a blaze that burned over 16,000 acres in just three days.

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Authorities still aren't saying what caused the fire, which erupted early Friday afternoon near Paradise, east of Plains. Within a few hours, the fire had grown to hundreds of acres, forcing the closure of the Highway 200 corridor for safety.

Fanned by extremely high winds, and hot, dry conditions, the blaze quickly spread from the grass into the forest on both sides of the canyon. While that fire behavior calmed somewhat with the cooler weather over the weekend, the blaze had still consumed 16,790 acres by Sunday evening. There is no containment.

Crews conducting burn operations on control lines Sunday- USFS photo
Crews conducting burn operations on control lines Sunday- USFS photo

Today, crews from a Type 1 team are using the break in the weather to secure and mop up control lines to protect structures in Paradise and along the main highway, as well as areas on both sides of the river. The fire has been moving north, so crews are looking for places to gain access and build additional control points on the Camas Prairie side of the fire outside Lolo National Forest.


Sanders County Sheriff Shawn Fielders told residents of the Henry Creek and East River Road that the blaze is still "very active", and additional closures could be ordered. Residents had already been under a pre-evacuation alert.

"Those are still probably facing closures," Fielders said during a community meeting Sunday. "The fire's creeping and the firefighters are doing everything they can to keep it from those areas. But please bear with us."

He also asked people to keep the highway and roads as clear as possible.

"Please just don't go out to see the fire," Fielders added. "There's a ton of apparatus out there, fire crews in the road."

Speed limits have been reduced to 35 miles per hour through the fire zone.

Smoke plume from River Road East Fire at 20,000 feet Saturday- USFS photo
Smoke plume from River Road East Fire at 20,000 feet Saturday- USFS photo

Montana Red Cross had a shelter open at the Church on the Move in Plains, and Mineral County was also offering additional space to take care of displaced livestock.

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