Hot, windy days boost fire danger

Deb Hill
News-Argus Managing Editor
Friday, June 4, 2021
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A map shows the huge area of the country, including most of the West, experiencing unusually high temperatures this week.
Map courtesy of NOAA

The past couple of days of unusually warm (dare we say hot?) temperatures not only are a forecast for the summer to come, but a reminder that this year could be a bad one when it comes to fire danger.
Thursday’s high temperature of 89 in Lewistown tied the record for the date, first set in 1988.
“It’s definitely warmer than what it should be for this time of year,” said Ray Greeley, National Weather Service meteorologist in Great Falls. “It also feels warmer than it is because the humidity is a bit high.”
Greeley said a big ridge of high pressure “parked” over the Great Basin is driving the extra warm weather.
“High pressure is conducive to warm temperatures because it allows air to sink, and sinking air warms and dries,” he explained.
However, Greeley said, the high pressure ridge was expected to break down and start moving east after Friday. While temperatures will return to something closer to normal, the heat and winds could ramp up fire danger.
Fergus County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Ryan Peterson said fuels are very dry already.
“The wind and heat could be a problem,” Peterson said. “Especially in the Roy area and the Breaks, we could be in a fire warning situation.”
Peterson said fire chiefs across Central Montana are playing things safe.
“Moore is already closed to burning and I’m expecting more districts to shut things down soon,” Peterson said.
“We don’t have a lot of green component to the grass right now,” said Department of Natural Resource Conservation Fire Management Officer Don Pyrah. “We are looking at a lot of dry grass from last year that can still carry a fire. Normally we rely on May moisture to get the new crop of grass going, but right now the grass isn’t as green as we’d like it. Just because it’s spring doesn’t mean it’s not dry.”
As evidence of that, Peterson pointed to a recent small grass fire near the Hanover boarding station of the Charlie Russell Chew Choo.
“Luckily the train crews had it out before the fire crew arrived,” Peterson said.

While currently there are no restrictions on fires in most of Fergus County, both Pyrah and Peterson are urging people to take extra care.
“For campfires under 48 inches across, there is no permit needed,” Peterson said. “Be sure you clear the fuels around the fire area and have plenty of water handy.”
Pyrah added the following suggestions:
“Make sure your campfires are completely out and cold. Watch out for faulty wheel bearings on vehicles and dragging chains. Be prepared and be careful,” he said.