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Flaming Ping Pong Balls Used to Get Eureka Fire to 75 Percent Containment

ping pong ball fire
Photo courtesy of VORT3Xphoto/Flickr

The Eureka wildfire is at around 6,468 acres and still burning about 38 miles south of Ennis, Montana in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.The good news is that an infrared flight over the area on the night of Tuesday, August 27, showed that although the north corner of the fire was still hot, the rest of the blaze was losing heat rapidly.

Incident Management Spokesman Matt McKelvey said that beetle kill in the area made the fire extremely difficult to fight.

“This fire was growing very rapidly when it was first reported on August 12,” McKelvey said. “It was the kind of fire that took a life of spotting way out ahead. It would spot up to a mile with sparks or flaming debris being thrown that far.”

Traditional methods of fire containment didn’t work.

“Usually you’re used to hearing us say ‘well, we went in with heavy equipment’ or ‘we went in with crews and they built line.’ But since we were getting that spotting activity, those kinds of tactics just weren’t going to work,” McKelvey said. “It would spot over suppression lines and then the wind would get it, and away it would go.”

Crews had to use the newly termed “ping pong ball method” of fighting the fire. Helicopters would drop actual ping pong balls that had been filled with an incendiary chemical mixture early in the morning. The ping pong balls would ignite in the air, creating fires in areas of high risk at times when ground crews could manage them more easily. The newly burned areas would then help push back the main wildfire’s advance.

The fire is currently at 72 percent, but McKelvey said the fire is “in good shape” and that he expects the containment will “go up quite a bit in the coming days.”

The Eureka wildfire will end up costing nearly $5 million to fight.

Matt McKelvey:

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