The Garden Creek wildfire was ignited by a storm system that passed through the Mission Valley of Western Montana on July 29th, 2017. The fire began in steep rocky forest lands on the West-side of the Flathead Reservation, just above the community of Hot Springs, MT. Over the next 14 days the fire grew to 2,052 acres threatening primary residences, communities, as well as high value timber assets, critical habitat, foraging areas, and significant natural and cultural areas.
The Garden Creek Fire occurred under critical fire weather conditions that included: above-normal daytime temperatures of 85 to 100℉; relative humidity of 8 to 25%; breezy upslope and ridgetop winds; warm and dry thermal belt conditions; and the passage of dry cold fronts with gusty winds on August 3, 4 and 9. The recorded Fire Danger Rating System Energy Release Component (95-98th percentile) and Burning Index (several days that exceeded the 95th percentile) indices where at near historically high levels as recorded at the Plains, MT RAWS. Daily fine fuel moisture were 3-4% on exposed Ponderosa pine slopes and 7-8% under dense canopy, mixed-conifer timber stands. Projected spotting distances were 0.3 miles at mid-slope locations and over 0.5 miles for ridgetop locations. Area down/dead, live woody, and duff-layer fuel moisture levels were historically low. Initial fire behavior was smoldering and creeping fire with individual and group tree torching with short-range spotting.