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Managers hope to contain Clark-area fire by weekend

The Hole in the Wall Fire burns along the Beartooth Mountain Front in this Wednesday photo taken from a Clark residence. The smoke column collapsed into the area later that evening. The Hole in the Wall Fire burns along the Beartooth Mountain Front in this Wednesday photo taken from a Clark residence. The smoke column collapsed into the area later that evening. Courtesy photo/Brian Dierking

Fire managers say they hope to have the Hole in the Wall Fire holed up by the end of the weekend.

The fire, burning along the Beartooth Mountain Front northwest of Clark, was estimated at 5,764 acres on Thursday night after burning 200 acres to the northeast and 500 acres to the west that day.

Firefighters under the command of Type II Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team C used Thursday's more humid weather to make significant progress on the fire, said a news release from the management team. As of Thursday night, the fire was estimated to be 50 percent contained and managers hope to fully contain it by the weekend.

"Things are looking good," Team C Operations Chief Rob Powell told Clark residents at a Thursday night meeting there. "Mother Nature seems to be cooperating and hopefully by Saturday or Sunday we'll get this thing tied off and be out of your guys' way."

Firefighters, including experienced Hot Shot crews, are working to build a fire line at Robinson Draw to stop the Hole in the Wall Fire from heading further up the Beartooth Mountain Front. Powell said managers expect to have a roughly two-day window over the weekend to stop the fire in the draw. Because of the rugged terrain, fire crews must either walk in or be dropped off by helicopter.

Three Hot Shot crews were camping up in the area of the fire's front on Thursday night. As of Friday, they were among 327 personnel staffing the fire. The personnel includes eight helicopters, being used to moderate the fire's growth, 11 fire engines and a water tender.

Managers are not expecting the fire to present a threat towards Clark, one reason being that the southern portion of the Hole in the Wall Fire has mostly cooled.

"There's some smokers, interior, way interior, that aren't a threat," Powell said. "We feel good about that one."

"The good thing is the fire's moving away from you now, it's going up to Montana, so there's less risk to you folks here," said Clint Dawson, north zone fire manager for the Shoshone National Forest.

Fortunately, Powell said, the fire's northward push earlier in the week did not jump into the Rock Creek and Corral Creek areas and managers don't expect it to now. A fire line along the Line Creek Plateau also held, significantly reducing the threat to Red Lodge, Mont., community, managers said.

"The fire that you see on this side (of the mountains) is what the fire is," said Terry Root, district ranger for the Shoshone.

The good news and progress on Thursday followed a frustrating Wednesday. An attempted burnout to stop the fire at Line Creek was thwarted by gusts from an unexpected Wednesday evening thunderstorm and around 7:15 p.m. or so, the Clark area was inundated with smoke when the fire's smoke column reached 35,000 feet, cooled and collapsed into the community.

Residents described the smoke as bringing darkness and extremely low visibility.

The collapse "brought a tremendous amount of smoke and ash, I'm sure," Root said. The smoke also grounded all aerial operations, but eventually, the smoke cleared and operations were able to resume.

Deputy Incident Commander Jay Esperance with the Type II team praised the work of initial incident commander Russ Wenke of the Cody Fire District and the ongoing work of the Clark Volunteer Fire Department under Chief Nathan Hoffert.

"They really, really have done a good job," Esperance said.

More information on the Hole in the Wall Fire is available at http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2510/.

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