Firefighting crews continued their work over the past week to contain the Lolo Creek Complex fire southwest of Missoula, strengthening fire lines and redoubling their efforts on the fire's northern front. Highway 12 was reopened Saturday, but residents along the roadway were still under evacuation warning. The Blue Mountain Lookout Tower was wrapped with foil Tuesday as a precautionary measure. According to InciWeb, "the potential threat the fire represents is far from over."
One of the men calling the shots on the scene is Incident Commander Greg Poncin. Just weeks ago, Poncin was organizing the effort to fight the massive Gold Pan Complex in the Bitterroot National Forest. As of Aug. 22, he's redirecting crews in Lolo and briefing visitors like Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester on what the National Interagency Fire Center called the top priority wildfire in the nation.
Poncin's name may ring a bell for those following the annual summer wildfire season. His Type 1 Incident Management Team has taken the lead on wildfires like the 2011 Monument Fire in Arizona and the 2012 Southeastern Montana Complex fire.
Just as notable is the work of his father, Dave Poncin, who worked as a district ranger, smokejumper and one of the first Type 1 incident commanders in the country several decades ago. Locals may remember that he worked as an incident commander on several of the wildfires that blazed through Yellowstone National Park back in 1988. He appeared years later in an educational video series, speaking to how dry fuels and bad weather made containing those historic fires impossible.
Despite cooler nights and a few scattered rain showers, the weather hasn't fully cooperated with Greg Poncin's work on the Lolo Creek Complex. Officials are now holding out hope for a season-ending event. The forecast calls for temperatures to dip slightly going into this weekend, but there's no guarantee of heavy rains in the near future.
The Indy attempted to catch up with Poncin to chat about his family's history fighting major Montana fires. The request was politely turned down, primarily because Poncin felt the public's attention should be focused exclusively on the fire. Of course. That's where the focus has always been for this family.