Fire danger increasing in Central Montana

By: 
DEB HILL
News-Argus Managing Editor
Friday, August 10, 2018

A wildland firefighter works a fire line two summers ago, a sight no one wants to see this year. Fire danger is on the increase due to hot, dry weather.

Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Hot and dry. That’s the forecast for the weekend, and possibly through the fall. After a long, snowy winter and a wet spring, Central Montana is drying out, which means fire danger is on the increase. Some restrictions are already in place and, if the hot, dry weather continues, more serious restrictions may be coming.

According to Sgt. Bryon Armour of the Fergus County Sheriff’s Department, while the county is not under any fire restrictions yet, dry conditions mean the Sheriff’s Department will not be issuing any burn permits.

“Because conditions are getting so dry, we are not issuing burn permits for open burning,” Armour said. “Any time you are doing open burning, whether that’s a slash pile or weeds or whatever, you need a burn permit. Right now we are not giving any out.”

Armour said backyard barbecuing is ok, but burning trash, even in a barrel, is probably not a good idea.

“It [the fire] could get away from you,” he said.

Chad Pickering, acting district ranger in Stanford, said Forest Service lands are not currently under any fire restrictions.

“After the heat this week, it is forecast to cool down some,” Pickering said. “We will keep monitoring but right now it doesn’t look like restrictions will be needed immediately.”

Pickering said the Forest Service fire crews measure the fire danger by looking at what are known as “thousand hour” fuels. These are fuels in the 3-8 inch category, such as dry branches or brush piles. These fuels take longer to burn.

Fire crews measure the fuel moisture index, or the amount of water in a fuel. For example, Pickering said, crews will select a site and monitor it regularly by cutting a branch or stem, weighing it, drying it and weighing again. The difference tells the percentage of moisture in the fuel, which is used to calculate fire danger. 

“We are still fairly green in the forest,” Pickering said. “That means there are no restrictions so far. You can have a campfire or smoke. Just use common sense and make sure your fire is out and cold before you leave the site, check your tow chains to make sure they are not dragging and creating sparks and smoke only in cleared areas.”

Jonathan Moore, public information officer for the Bureau of Land Management, said there are no restrictions in the Lewistown area so far. However nearby counties, such as Blaine and Hill counties, have implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions, which affect all private land, BLM land and state land, as well as the Fort Belknap Reservation.

“The next opportunity to assess fire restrictions is Tuesday,” Moore said. “There is an area restrictions coordination call every Tuesday.”

According to the National Weather Service in Great Falls, Fergus and nearby counties will see severe fire weather potential over the weekend, with high temperatures, low relative humidity and gusty winds.

“Any spark, man-made or nature-caused, may cause new fire starts,” they warned.

The eight to 14 days outlook provided by the Weather Service on Thursday shows below normal precipitation and above normal temperatures through at least Aug. 22.

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