Firefighters Counting Their Blessings on Mt. Sentinel Fire

(Peter Christian reporting)

Missoula City Fire Chief Jeff Brandt was a very tired but happy man at about 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night after a fire broke out near University housing at the base of the iconic Mt. Sentinel.

Chief Brandt said the fact that the fire was able to be contained so quickly was an absolute blessing.

“You bet Peter, we're still on scene here at the foot of the mountain just counting our blessings that everything went right tonight with resources available in the valley and the partnerships with the DNRC (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation), the Forest Service and UM Police and yeah, we got we got lucky tonight,” said Chief Brandt.

Chief Brandt related the timeline of the fire that drew the attention of thousands in the Missoula valley.

“You know, I believe we received a phone call around just after six o'clock tonight and it actually came in as a structure fire,” he said. “So we were a bit behind the curve starting out with because we responded with our Type One engines and not our Wildland Fire engines. But as soon as we got close to the scene, we realized what it was and redirected resources and got help to come in, and so we were able to anchor in the bottom and we just started working out and quite frankly, the helicopters and that coordination with the Forest Service and DNRC was able to first hinder and then stop this fire.”

Brandt said the investigation into how the fire started is now underway.

“We've had two investigators on scene doing interviews and we still haven't got everything wrapped around that yet to see we've got,” he said. “People we're hauling buckets and so we should be pretty close to seeing what was going on, we hope. We don't have a size on acreage, they're doing IR (infrared) flight and a drone flight tonight that will help us kind of look at things. We've got firefighters up and around the whole area. You know, the challenge of this of course, is the aspect and the steep slope of Mount Sentinel as everybody knows,  so it was a steep attack and luckily are folks are in good shape and trained well and we were able to get hose lines and other things laid up over the hill and of course that air support was fantastic.”

Chief Brandt related some important information to people who live near the fire as they watch the mountain overnight.

“So Peter, I just want to mention that the folks tonight will probably see some flickers and glows of embers and some bushes still on fire and you know we'll have firefighters sitting here tonight keeping an eye on things but all of that stuff that we believe will be interior into the black and we're keeping the perimeter safe,” he said.

As of about 9:30 p.m. the fire was judged to be 75 percent contained thanks to the quick work of the many agencies that responded, and that there was no wind to carry the fire over the top of the mountain.

As Chief Brandt said, “we’re counting our blessings”.

 

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UPDATE as of 9:05 p.m. on Thursday:

the University of Montana provided the following statement:

According to fire crews from DNRC the fire on Mount Sentinel is 75% contained. The DNRC is asking people to continue to stay away from the scene and off the mountain. The "M" trail is still closed. Barring any significant changes in the fire status there will be no further up-dates this evening.
Missoula fire crews are responding to a fire on Mt. Sentinel. The fire was reported just after 6 p.m. Thursday burning east of Pioneer Court. Choppers are currently making runs at the fire to dump water.

The University of Montana sent out this alert to all students:

There is a small wild-land fire on Mount Sentinel east of Pioneer Court. The University of Montana Police Department and Missoula City fire are requesting that all people stay off the mountain and away from the area. The "M" Trail is also closed until further notice.

KGVO will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.