Fire danger rising; officials urge caution

Friday, August 2, 2019
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Fergus County Fire Warden Ben Phillips is in charge of fire restrictions in the county and is the liaison between the state and federal resources. 

Photo by Miriam Campan


When the Moore Rural District Fire Chief and the Fergus County Fire Warden meet to discuss what fire restrictions will look like going into August, it’s time to take heed. 

Jerry Simpson and Ben Phillips recently put fire restrictions into place after discussing the Helena fire and a small green alfalfa field fire in Simpson’s district.

“We are not currently issuing any burn permits,” said Phillips. “Everyone knows about the fire in Helena that is burning over 5,000 acres of green fields right now.” 

The Fergus County Fire Warden added, “Even though the grass looks green, the tops of the grasses are dry.”

The usual suspect, lightning, was not the cause of any of the 11 fires in the county that began last week. Although the fires were limited to less than 10 acres, the majority were equipment started.

Great Falls Meteorologist Ray Greely warns the fire danger will be high in the next few days for Fergus County. 

“In general the warm pattern is going to continue through today with 90 degree temperatures. There is a risk for a mix of dry thunderstorms along where lightning strikes could create a fire,” said Greely. 

Phillips agrees.

“Our biggest concern is the potential for fire, especially near the Fergus/Petroleum county lines. There is a severe fire potential between Denton and Winifred. Judith Basin County had six lightning fires, and Petroleum County is fighting both grasshoppers and fires right now,” he said.

“In our county, we were so wet last year, and with a good spring this year, there is a lot of fuel for a fire to burn,” Phillips added.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration long-range forecast shows August, September and October in Central Montana have a chance for above average rainfall, and there is a slight chance for above average temperatures, as well. 

Now is a good time, according to Matt Rosendale, commissioner of securities and insurance, for Montanans to speak with their local insurance agents about their fire coverage. Items to discuss include coverage for fire retardant damage, damage to outlying buildings and landscaping, or coverage for living expenses if a mandatory civil evacuation order is issued. The website also offers a checklist for an inventory of possessions that can be downloaded from Although a paper inventory can be stored in a fireproof safe, a digital backup is recommended.

For the most current weather forecast, Meteorologist Greely suggested the following website:

For information on Montana fire conditions, visit the state’s official website at


Phillips recommends the following fire prevention tips:

• Check that chains are not being dragged when hauling a trailer.

• Don’t idle side-by-sides or four wheelers in tall grasses. Grass seed can get in the exhaust and start a fire. 

• Avoid all tall grasses when driving.

• Maintain equipment to include personal vehicles.

• When camping make sure the campfire area is cold enough to touch before you leave.



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