Stage 1 fire restrictions implemented Friday

Forecast shows no relief from drought conditions
Katherine Sears
Friday, July 16, 2021
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The evening sun appears orange through thick smoke in the area Thursday evening. Fergus County implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions Friday while much of the west experiences heightened fire activity.  
Photo by Katherine Sears

Fergus County entered Stage 1 fire restrictions at 12:01 a.m. Friday as hot, dry weather continues to plague the west. Smoke from wildfires in other parts of Montana and surrounding states moved into the area Thursday while Fergus County Commissioners met for a special meeting to approve implementing fire restrictions.  
Although these restrictions have come earlier than normal this year, the timing is similar to 2017, when the county entered Stage 1 restrictions July 14. This was also the last time the county entered Stage 2 restrictions, implemented just two weeks later on July 27, according to Disaster and Emergency Services Director Ryan Peterson. 

“Last time we entered Stage 1 this early, we implemented Stage 2 very quickly after,” said Peterson.
Though the county will eventually enter Stage 2, Peterson said he hopes to get through a good portion of harvest before that happens, as that stage includes restrictions on machinery.
Stage 1 restrictions prohibit building and maintaining campfires, and smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, or within an area cleared of flammable materials at least three feet in diameter.
All private lands within the county are under these restrictions as of Friday. The Lewistown Area Fire Restrictions Interagency Group also implemented Stage 1 for state and federal lands within Fergus and Sheridan counties on Friday. These restrictions vary between agencies, and Peterson advises to “know before you go.”
“National Forest, BLM, Charlie Russell Wildlife Refuge, they are all different restrictions,” said Peterson. “So please contact them if you plan to go or camp in those places.”
He also reminded these restrictions are in place for East Fork Campground, and campfires there are prohibited.
Most surrounding counties entered Stage 1 restrictions in early July.  
Municipalities are exempt from county restrictions, but Lewistown City Commissioners will vote on a resolution Monday, July 19, to enter Stage 1, according to City Manager Holly Phelps.

Fire weather
While Fergus County has seen many small fires so far this year, Peterson said they have been extinguished before spreading.
“Nothing big, they’ve gotten everything contained quickly,” said Peterson.
Lighting and farm equipment have been the main causes of fire, but people have been prepared.
“Farmers and ranchers have been good about being ready and keeping water nearby,” said Peterson.
He said volunteer departments in the area are “nervous, but good.”
“They’re all farmers and ranchers too,” said Peterson.
The forecast for the area shows little to no relief from fire weather conditions.
“It’s not going to help anything, that’s for sure,” said Francis Kredensor, meteorologist at the NWS in Great Falls. “Even if the humidity is a little better, if it’s going to be 90 to 100 degrees, it’s going to continue to dry out the fuels.”
The agency has issued an excessive heat watch for Fergus County next week, which could turn in to a warning if conditions continue.
“Mainly, the watch is based on daytime high temperatures,” said Kredensor, “Just as important, but often overlooked is overnight lows, which are forecast in the 60s.”
Daytime temperatures are forecast in the 90s most of next week, and Monday is predicted to hit 100 degrees. Kredensor said houses without air conditioning are unable to cool down in these conditions, which plays into heat stress and the necessity for an excessive heat watch.
This watch designation is relatively new, and the NWS has issued only two in the past five years, including the one in place for next week.
“We have worked together between offices and with various government/public health partners to identify a need for issuing such products,” said Kredensor. “We have actually not issued an Excessive Heat Warning before, though I suspect we may upgrade the current watch to a warning if the forecast does not change.”
Kredensor said there is no substantial rain in the forecast, though some areas may see some storm activity.
“There’s no widespread rain that we’re seeing,” said Kredensor. “It will just be whoever is lucky enough to get a rain shower.”