Last night was laundry night in my small world but as I was processing my wash there were fire trucks going up and down the streets. Storms blew through Missoula and even started some power poles on fire. At least 20 new fires started close to Missoula, one in between Missoula and Lolo. A friend of mine could see the flames from his house. There is now a fire in the Rattlesnake and one in Frenchtown as well.
MISSOULIAN : "Gene Miller saw only four or five lightning bolts strike the hillsides around him as a late afternoon storm swarmed from the west over the top of his summer high-rise office – the Blue Mountain fire lookout.
The real show, said the 70-year-old, was a different storm, which came from the south end of the Bitterroot Valley and moved directly north along the spine of the Sapphire Mountains, picking up speed and throwing lightning bolts in wild spasms for as far as the eye could see… By the time the storm howled through Lolo, pushing winds at least 60 mph, it left in its wake more than 10 new fire starts in the Bitterroot Valley.
Smokejumpers, heli-rappellers and ground crews were called to action to tackle seven fire starts in the Skalkaho Falls area alone.
We just got pounded on the east side of the valley, said Dixie Dies, fire information officer for the Bitterroot National Forest.
As the stormed rolled toward Missoula, it sparked a fire 400 yards from the Rossignol family home in Lolo just north of Highway 12.
Lightning torched a tree that toppled onto a slash pile the Rossignols planned to burn this coming fall and ignited dry grass and debris in the surrounding wooded area, said Bobbie Rossignol.
Firefighters arrived within moments to help protect the Rossignol's home and two helicopters were dispatched to help beat back the flames.
Just before nightfall, the fire was estimated to be about 10 acres in size, and continued to belch out smoke plumes Miller could see from the Blue Mountain lookout.
Near the Rossignol home, up Sleeman Creek Gulch the thunderstorm dropped a downburst – a hammering wind that moves with intense force in one direction when it slams to the ground.
Al Kolata, a resident of the gulch, knew the storm was getting worse and was about to call his place of work – the National Weather Service in Missoula – to report the storm was borderline severe just as the downburst hit.
It made its presence known with the crashing of trees.
When things quieted, the meteorologist ventured outdoors to assess the damage and discovered 20-some healthy pine trees with trunks about 14 inches in diameter laying on the ground, all pointed northwest.
It looks like the initial force hit the side of the gulch we live in and then just shot off, said Kolata, who guessed the downburst moved at 60-80 mph.
In Missoula, the storm unleashed all kinds of havoc.
Lightning and high winds cause power poles to fall, trees to fall on power lines and a transformer to burst into flames.
Emergency dispatchers called out countless reports of sparking, arcing and flaming power lines and poles across the Missoula Valley."