Hot shot 

Local photographer gets a jump on I-90 blazes

High winds, dry air and hot temperatures aren’t making the job of fighting the 4,700-acre I-90 fires any easier for the 896 firefighters assigned the task. According to fire information officer Pat McKelvey of the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team, fire crews are mopping up the Alberton East and Fish fires, but the West Mountain fire near Alberton and the Tarkio fire are still fully ablaze.

“The total fire complex is about 40-percent contained at this point,” McKelvey said Tuesday.

In addition to the 26 firefighting crews working on the blaze, 46 fire engines, five helicopters and an air tanker have been committed to the wildfire.

“It’s rare to have an air tanker committed and assigned to fire like this,” says McKelvey. “The reason for that is the fire’s proximity to the Bonneville Power Administration [power line]. That’s a main part of the northwest power grid.”

Elsewhere, showers from Monday night’s thunderstorms moderated fire activity on the Bitterroot National Forest, but it’s expected to pick up again as temperatures increase and humidity drops. According to Bitterroot officials, the Rockin’ Complex, 10 miles west of Darby and 5.5 miles west of Lake Como, grew to 4,300 acres on Tuesday and includes three fires: the Rockin’, the Koch and the Upper Como. An interagency hot-shot crew is working along the Rock Creek Trail on the southern perimeter of the fire. The Helena Hot Shots are working along Rock Creek Trail west of Lake Como. A community information meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 11 at the Darby Community Club House.

The photos on this page were taken by Alberton resident Brandon Wasser, 18, on Aug. 4, the day the I-90 fires sparked. Wasser and a friend were running errands in Missoula when Wasser called home to see if his dad needed anything. His dad told him to come home, the highway was on fire. Wasser and his friend drove back to Alberton, where he spent 30 minutes helping neighbors dig a fire trench between an oncoming blaze and a friend’s house. Then he drove home and grabbed his new camera, a Canon digital Rebel, and spent the next two hours driving around the area, shooting the scene. Wasser plans to attend UM this fall, where he hopes to study photography.

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