Fire season on its way, despite all the rain

By: 
DEB HILL
News-Argus Managing Editor
Saturday, June 23, 2018

August is the month to watch out for, according to the Predictive Services National Interagency Fire Center. As this map shows, wildland fire potential is above normal for Central Montana in August.

Map courtesy of Predictive Services National Interagency Fire Center

 

 

 

Have you heard people say, “All this rain will help with the fire season”?

 Well, they’re wrong. Or at the least, we have to wait and see. Much depends on what happens weatherwise in the next few weeks.

According to Coleen Haskell, meteorologist with the Northern Rockies Coordination Center, recent predictions for Central Montana’s fire season show potential for damaging fires in late summer.

“The July fire season will be pretty close to normal,” Haskell said. “But we are expecting above average temperatures from July through October, which will dry things out pretty fast.”

In years with higher than normal precipitation, Haskell said, fire danger rises due to the increase in what are called “fine fuels.”

According to the Firewise website, fuels are divided into two categories: fine fuels and coarse fuels. Fine fuels are any fuels with a diameter of less than a quarter inch, and with a large surface area in comparison to their mass. Easy to ignite, they tend to produce large flames and serve as kindling for coarse fuels. Examples include grasses, dead leaves, pine needles and small twigs. Grass, especially tall grass, can result in intense burning.

That’s what Haskell is referring to when she says the increased precipitation this year could create a problem – grasses are growing really well. 

“In years of increased precipitation, we have higher fuel loads,” Haskell said. “Combine that with drying, and add lightning from a thunderstorm, and you have the potential for fire.”

As wet as it is right now, it would take only two to three weeks of dry or windy conditions to create the setting for bad wildfires, Haskell said.

The National Interagency Coordination Center publishes predictions for fire seasons across the country. For Central Montana, the prediction is for “elevated fire through August and early September.”

“We are looking at a shorter, more compressed fire season this year,” Haskell said. “But we could have a peak of activity in August, and it looks like the warmer and drier conditions will continue in September and October. We are suggesting above normal fire potential in August and September.”

Statewide, Haskell said fire resources should be adequate.

“Other areas of the country are not requesting anything that can’t be filled,” she said, meaning Montana’s resources are not being sent elsewhere. That, however, could change as summer heat sets in.

“With all the recent rain we can become complacent with how wet it has been, but it doesn’t take long for things to dry out,” Haskell said. “We all need to keep monitoring the weather and the conditions.”

 

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