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Entries in fire danger (10)


Bitterroot National Forest asks for public's help with fire danger

(HAMILTON)- With an increase in fire danger, and the discovery of several human-caused wildfires over the past week, Bitterroot National Forest managers are raising the fire danger to "high".

Although the long, wet winter helped to forestall an early fire season, the hot spell of the past 3-weeks is changing the situation dramatically. Forest managers say small fuels, like grasses, brush and pine needles have dried out quickly in the 90-plus degree weather, raising the risk of a major fire starting. 

Plus, fire crews have already had to deal with several small fires in the past week, including some started by fires abandoned by forest users.

"The Bitterroot crews have responded to 10-wildfires already," noted Tod McKay, Bitterroot National Forest spokesman. "Unfortunately 7 of those were human caused, either unattended campfires or burn piles that escaped. We're just asking for the public's help."

McKay says its critical for campers to make sure to build fires only in established fire grates, and make sure any fires are "dead out" and cold before they leave. 


Fire danger looks below average this year

Lolo Creek Complex blows up, August 2013- Dennis Bragg photo(MISSOULA)- In 2012 it was Eastern Montana that faced the worst fires, as massive blazes burned across wide stretches of open and forested lands. 

Last year it was Western Montana's turn, as a series of intense, hot fires began burning in mid-July and kept burning through August, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and firefighting expense. 

But at this point at least, it appears 2014 could see a much different scenario across the Treasure State. 

The annual report on the wildfire threat in the West, issued by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise says the Northern Rockies will likely be the one place in the U.S. to see a "below average" risk of wildfire from May through August. 

And it really comes down to the snowpack and wet weather we've had since the first of February. While much of the winter had been fairly mild through January, the swing to intense storms, coupled with cool and showery weather into the spring is going to delay the start of the fire season. 

The fire forecasters are saying while some of the trees and brush are finally starting to "green up" now, the curing and drying of field is expected to be delayed. In fact, they say there's the possibility fuels won't become critically dry or fully cured in most areas of Western and Eastern Montana, Northern Wyoming and Northern Idaho until August. While that doesn't eliminate the risk of wildfire, those conditions could at least shorten our fire season for the first time since 2011. 


Fire danger prompts emergency declaration in the Bitterroot

USFS map shows how Gold Pan Fire has pushed east. Orange marks recent activity crossing MT border(HAMILTON)- Ravalli County commissioners are declaring a state of emergency because of the high fire danger, a preemptive step that gives sheriff's deputies the right to order evacuations if needed. 

Commissioners have been keeping a close eye on the fire danger all summer, and especially the growth of the Gold Pan Fire in the Bitterroot backcountry, which has now consumed more than 37-thousand acres.

Now that the fire has crossed over the border into Montana, county leaders say there's now a threat to "private land, life and property". And after reviewing the latest information with The Ravalli County Sheriff's Office and the Director of the Office of Emergency Management this morning, commissioners decided to issue the emergency order. 

The resolution points out that the current fires present a "risk to public health" and there's no change in sight to the hot, dry weather. The county says that could mean the sheriff's department will have to order immediate evacuations if there's a blow-up. The authorization means the sheriff can "direct and compel" evacuations of "all or part of the population" if a fire flares up. 

Last year the most dangerous blaze of the year, the Sawtooth Fire, started in September and burned within a few miles of downtown Hamilton, forcing hundreds to be evacuated. 


Lightning starts new fires near Missoula

(MISSOULA)- Fires from lightning storms that have swept through Western Montana in the past week are starting to show up, with crews on the Lolo National Forest spotting several new starts in the past couple of days. 

Firefighters and aircraft have responded to several new fire starts on the Superior and Ninemile Ranger districts.

The largest fire, the Freeze Out Fire, is approximately two acres and located near Prospect Mountain 15 miles south of Slowey Campground on the Superior Ranger District. Resources responding to that fire Thursday included three helicopters and three Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs). Firefighters are also hiking into the fire, which is reported to be burning on the upper one-third of a slope and showing active fire behavior.

Firefighters also responded to two other fires on the Superior Ranger District that were quickly suppressed with helicopter bucket drops and with firefighters on the ground. Both of those fires have remained less than one acre and still have firefighters assigned to them.

On the Ninemile Ranger District firefighters and aircraft responded to a new fire 13 miles North of Tarkio near Horsehead Peak. Three SEATs and three engines responded to the fire and suppression efforts have been successful so far in stopping fire progression.

No structures are threatened by any of the recent fires and no closures are in place for these fires.


Gusty winds create first threat of "fire weather" for MT this year

Map shows warnings and watches. Darker color is for high winds along the Front. NWS map(GREAT FALLS)- It might seem strange when you still need your winter coat in the morning. But the National Weather Service is warning much of North Central Montana will see "fire weather" conditions on Friday, the first time we've had that advisory in 2012.

NWS forecasters say gusty winds, combine with low humidities as low as 15% will develop around mid-day Friday, creating what they call "critical fire weather conditions" for the lower elevation grasslands in the Great Falls region.

The fire weather watch has been issued for a broad swath of the state, from East Glacier and the Rocky Mountain Front on the west to east of Great Falls and south through the Lewis and Clark National Forest areas to Lewistown. The watch impacts all areas below 5000' in elevation through Friday evening. The forecasters say grasslands that are snow free could see a rapid spread for fires if they start.

A high wind warning has been posted for the communities right along the Front, including Browning, Choteau and Cut Bank. NWS is expecting sustained winds of 35 to 45 mph with gusts to 65 mph and even as high as 75 mph is some isolated areas. Authorities also warn the winds could be a problem for trucks and other "high profile" vehicles, especially on north-south roads across the region.