Chamber discusses wildfire and 700 CGY bicyclers

The All American Beartooth Highway 212 that goes through the Beartooth Pass is closed south of Red Lodge as the Rock Creek Fire grows to 700 acres. The Board of the Red Lodge Area Chamber (RLCA) invited speakers and the Carbon County Commissioners to discuss the event at their meeting at The Pollard on Wednesday, Aug. 21. “Can the pass open for the bicyclers on Saturday?” asked Angela Beaumont, board member referring to the upcoming Cycle Greater Yellowstone event (CGY). “Not happening,” said USFS Fire Information Officer Jeff Gildehaus.

“If there is fire near the road or firefighters working on the road-it’s not safe.” He said he had just spoken with Montana DNRC Director Matt Wolcott and they felt 700 cyclers in the pass was an unacceptable risk. Sherri Moore, CGY Coordinator agreed, “It will have to be rerouted.” Gildehaus said currently, there is a crucial fight to keep the Rock Creek Fire in Rock Creek drainage. Winds are already picking up. But, he said, “The tankers are hitting that ridge hard with fire retardant. If it goes over the western ridge, to the West Fork drainage, we’ll have two fires on two fronts. There are winds of 40-50 mph predicted tonight, possible thunderstorms or worse, dry lightening."

The official staging location for the Rock Creek Fire is now the Carbon County Fairgrounds-as in earlier fires. However, it is also where the CGY event was being planned for Friday with cars parked, scores of trucks and buses coming, bicyclers arriving Friday night, many to camp out, with 3-400 to be fed and attend concerts there. Gildehaus said it was possible for the two major events to co-exist if the Fire Incident Command used their current south route from the fairgrounds on White Ave and the CGY used only the north route onto Hwy 78. The meeting discussed whether the Red Lodge Rodeo grounds and city property there could be procured instead for CGY. Moore would consider if all parties agreed, but had serious concerns about such a big group being so close to the fire team and airport with so much activity. Red Lodge Schools Superintendent Mark Brajcich said he could talk to the school board about using Red Lodge Schools’ facilities-land for camping, concession stands and perhaps even the gym.

He did not suggest the Civic Center saying, “We have in the past needed the Civic Center as an evacuation center for people and Red Cross.” Gildehaus advised that the fire was in a serious stage with no containment in extremely dry conditions. “We’re working on a lot of retardant and doing burn out wherever possible on the ridge. That’s where the push is. We want to get it tied off before the afternoon.”