Update 5:00 pm 08/28/22 – Helena Fire Chief Jon Campbell said crews were now turning to cleanup operations, following the afternoon of aggressive firefighting efforts on the bushfires burning on the northern flank of Mount Helena.
The fire started just after noon on Sunday and spread quickly in windy conditions. It emitted a plume of smoke that was visible over most of Helena’s area.
“We were having lunch downtown,” said Kent Barnes, who lives on LeGrande Cannon Boulevard, near where the fire started. “We came out of there, saw all the smoke and thought, ‘Whoa, that’s near the house, we have to go home.’”
Campbell told MTN that no home was immediately threatened. He said fires may have started around the LeGrande Cannon and Henderson Street areas. The cause is still under investigation.
Authorities carried out extensive aerial operations, with large air tankers dropping fire retardants and helicopters dropping water. However, the operation was delayed due to unauthorized drones flying in the area. The Helena Police Department reported the drone operator was identified and the drone was seized.
The leaders again urged the public to keep their drones away from areas of active fire.
“Any civilian operation of the drone literally stops all of the aircraft’s firefighting efforts, so it’s a big deal that people don’t do that,” Campbell said.
Campbell said the US Forest Service sent a 20-person hand crew to the mountain. In addition, agencies such as the Montana DNRC, West Valley Fire Rescue, East Valley Volunteer Fire Department, Montana City Volunteer Fire Department and the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office are assisting the Helena Fire Department.
Barnes said residents in nearby neighborhoods were grateful for the quick response.
“They did their job, and they did it really well,” he said.
Helena City closed all roads leading to Helena Mountain Park. Campbell said they were asking people to stay outside for at least one full day for safety reasons.
“In case there are fires, flare-ups, wind changes or things along those paths, we don’t want any civilians in a compromised position,” he said. “It’s too dangerous for the fire conditions to change.”
Campbell said the fire was burning in an area where Helena Parks, Recreation and Open Lands have done significant work to reduce bushfire fuel in recent years.
“The ability to contain and effectively extinguish these fires is directly correlated with fuel mitigation efforts that have been carried out in previous years,” he said.
He asked the public to remain vigilant against fires.
“Hot, dry, windy,” he said. “I know the nights are getting colder, but we’re in the middle of fire season as we speak, and it looks like this will be the last time we see fire before the snow takes off.”
Firefighters tackle the Mount Helena fire on Sunday
Update 16:05 08/28/22 – A civilian drone halted airstrike operations for crews battling the Mount Helena Fire on Sunday. Police Helena was able to locate the drone operators and stop them from interfering with firefighting efforts.
“The Helena Police Department has confirmed that a civilian drone operator was found, and the drone is in police custody. Air raids on the Mount Helena fire were stopped for a short time due to interference from the drone, but resumed after it was taken down,” it said. City of Helena in its release.
Helena Fire said there are currently no homes at risk. People should stay outside Mount Helena Park for at least the next 24 hours for safety reasons.
Helena City Fire Chief Jon Campbell reported that firefighters were transitioning to clearing and would remain on site throughout the night.
“Many thanks to our partners for their swift action on these fires, including: US Forest Service, MT Department of Natural Resources, Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s Office, West Valley Fire, East Valley Fire, and City of Montana Fire. Helena Fire and Police Department for their loyal service to this community,” the City of Helena wrote in the release.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Update: We’ve received reports of civilian drones hindering airstrike efforts on the Mount Helena fire. The public was again asked to refrain from flying drones in the area to allow for an aerial response. pic.twitter.com/tFDFB1SDhW
— City of Helena MT (@city_helena) August 28, 2022
Update 13:50 08/28/22 – The Lewis and Clark County/City of Helena 911 Center said there were currently no evacuation notices. Spring Meadow Lake has been closed to aid firefighting efforts.
“City Fire Chief Jon Campbell has requested that residents stay out of the area and allow emergency services to work. All roads and leading to Mount Helena park are closed. In addition, staff are requesting that people refrain from flying drones in the area. to make way for additional aerial firefighting response,” wrote the City of Helena in a release.
Air tankers have descended on the area to help suppress the spread of the fire.
Original story – There is a forest fire burning on Mount Helena, officials are asking people to avoid the area.
The fire is currently raging on the north side of the mountain.
Several fire agencies are currently responding to the fire and there is a large firefighter on the corner of LeGrande Canyon Boulevard and Henderson Street. DNRC helicopters were seen descending in the area.
It is currently unclear what the approximate size of the fire was or what caused the blaze.
Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available.