Caribou fire nears 17K acres

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LIBBY, Mont. — After doubling in size from Saturday to Sunday, moving 8 miles in two and a half days, destroying an unknown number of structures and causing evacuations, the Caribou fire reached 16,812 acres in size by Monday morning.

Located 21 miles northwest of Eureka, the Caribou fire was zero percent contained and was manned by 175 personnel, according to an incident fact sheet released 8 a.m. Monday.

An evacuation order remained effect for the West Kootenai area north of Tooley Lake, while pre-evacuation notices had been served in the West Kootenai area south of Tooley Lake, officials said.

The American Red Cross is providing free emergency services for evacuees at the Church of God in Eureka.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s’ Office ran into problems Saturday with the evacuation process, Sheriff Roby Bowe said at a town meeting held Sunday afternoon in the Libby High School gym.

“Not enough people took us seriously” when given pre-evacuation notices, Bowe said. As a result, some evacuations were so last-minute that “houses were burning 10 to 15 minutes after” people left, he said.

“When we tell people to get ready, we mean get ready,” Bowe said.

A dry cold front passed through the fire area overnight Sunday, under which firefighters worked to contain a three-acre spot fire in a location not specified in the fact sheet.

Heavy equipment operators and firefighters worked Monday to build a fireline to the southeast of West Kootenai, while crews also worked “on the west and north sides of the fire to continue fireline construction, monitor and patrol for fire growth with northeast winds over the fire,” the fact sheet states.

Also on Monday, the sheriff’s’ office was still verifying how many structures had been destroyed by the fire and trying to contact property owners before releasing the information to the public.

After lower temperatures and occasionally gusty winds out of the northeast on Monday, the weather forecast called for high pressure to rebuild over the next two to three days, moderating wind intensity and direction, the fact sheet states.

The Caribou fire was caused by lightning on Aug. 11, according to an Inciweb incident information web page. About 10 percent of the fire is in Canada.

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