Wildfire burning near former vermiculite mine in Northwest Montana

Wildfire burning near former vermiculite mine in Northwest Montana
Michael Haskins

Update: Between Saturday and Sunday, the fire grew slightly toward Highway 37. Authorities also now know that the fire was human caused; smoking material was found.

Original Story: Firefighters are working to contain a 46 acre fire near Highway 37, outside of Libby, Montana. Responders have named it the Highway 37 Fire.

According to the U.S. Forest Service-Kootenai National Forest, the only structure threatened is a power line, but the fire is about a mile and a half way from the former W.R. Grace & CO. vermiculite mine.

The Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency (LCEMA) noted the fire is burning near an area called Operable Unit 3, or OU3, which is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Libby Superfund site. That area includes the former vermiculite mine.

As of Saturday afternoon, LCEMA said the fire hasn’t crossed into OU3, but if it does, the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program will start sampling air for airborne Libby Amphibole asbestos.

In addition, LCEMA continually monitors outdoor air quality in the Libby area for particulate matter levels and will make recommendations for public health based on the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

There are some road closures in effect. Go here for the latest information. This is a developing situation.

There is an emergency management hotline you can call for update at 406-293-6295 or sign up for CodeRED to get immediate updates.