It’s mud season across much of the Flathead Valley; roads that will become dusty with dried dirt come summer are often rutted and slick with mud now. Farm fields have pools of water and mud as the ice and snow of the winter melt.
But, tall grasses line the edges of those fields. Tall, dried-out grasses that burn easily.
“When you take a dormant grass, and you add a little wind, and it gets up in the 50’s and 60’s, it’s going to be about the same moisture as the relative humidity is, said Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager Lincoln Chute, “you get those southwest winds, and they’re usually pretty dry, and they’re pretty readily going to burn, it doesn’t have to be 90 degrees out.”
Chute also volunteers with a rural fire department in the Valley and says this time of year, during open burning, Flathead fire departments will respond to numerous brush piles that burned out of control. A grass fire over the weekend quickly spread over more than a dozen acres west of Kalispell. Initial reports had the blaze covering up to 50-acres on the record setting warm, windy Friday. Local, rural fire departments put out the blaze by the afternoon, and believe it started because a brush pile got out of control.
“The one thing that is a little different this year is the fact that last years wet summer, the grasses are a lot taller. We have grasses that are that 3 to 4 foot height, and those will generate approximately about a 16 foot flame length,” Chute said.
He encourages people to use this open burn season to take care of reducing fuels around their homes; cutting low hanging limbs off trees, gathering brushy debris, and burning off these fuels.
Chute says now is the time to create defensible space before the summer fire season, but he urges caution “even a 5 or 10 mile an hour wind, which isn’t real strong at all, it’s going to move fire really fast, and if it does get in the taller grasses, if you don’t have a pumper or a truck that can roll and spray water at the same time, it’s going to be really hard to control.”
Open burning in the Flathead lasts until May 1st. Until that time landowners need only check on air quality before burning.