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Large backburn operation underway at Rice Ridge Fire - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Large backburn operation underway at Rice Ridge Fire

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Rice Ridge fire (MTN News) Rice Ridge fire (MTN News)

OVANDO - Fire management officials at the over 135,000-acre Rice Ridge Fire are working on a huge backburning operation on the south side of the fire, northwest of Ovando, according to Rice Ridge information officer Mike Cole.

Crews began aerial burning operations Sunday to create a low intensity burn that will cover thousands of acres.

They hope to limit the likelihood that this blaze will make a damaging run south, Cole said.

When the Rice Ridge fire blew up and consumed nearly 50,000 acres just over a week ago, the blaze approached structures in that area, including homes. Fire managers want to prevent that from happening again.

Between 4,500 and 6,000 acres span between the west to east perimeters, from Black Canyon Creek to Cave Creek, said Phil Oosahwe, Rice Ridge Fire division November supervisor.

The backburning begins at the fire line, and will slowly crawl south, until it approaches U.S. Forest Service road 477, Oosahwe said.

Cole said that this area is mostly National Forest land, except for 30 acres of Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range to the west.

“We would like to start up here if we can and gradually bring this fire down and get a low intensity burn, so we’re not trying to kill the forest and get a high mortality rate,” Cole said.

These low-intensity, ground-level burns prevent the fire from destroying the forest by burning too hot and reaching into the tops of the trees.

On Sunday, fire managers used aerial burning to fire three ridges that run north to south, and are in the process of slowly backing the fire down the east and west sides of those mountains.

These ridges run along Shoup Creek, east of Dry Cottonwood Creek, and east of Black Canyon Creek.

“And then when it get closer to the road, we will start doing what we call hand firing. (We'll) take crews and they will light this by hand, along the road progressing to the east,” Oosahwe said.

They plan to bring the fire close enough to USFS road 477 to begin hand firing operations sometime Tuesday, Cole said.

Crews spent the end of last week building a sheltered fuel break that reaches 100 feet north of the 477 road. They want this six mile line to stop the Rice Ridge fire before it can spread into the grassy fields north of highway 200.

Oosahwe said that bringing the fire to them and meeting it on their terms, minimizes risk to the firefighters on the front line.

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