Officials predict long, dry fire season

Multiple agencies are saying we are in for a long active fire season. Governor Brian Schweitzer received a fire season update from those agencies Monday.

Conditions are not looking good for this early in the year.

“We’re actually in conditions now we don’t usually see until the 15th or 20th of August,” Schweitzer said.

Governor Schweitzer met in his reception room with representatives from federal and state agencies—including the national guard–talking about current fire conditions, and fire outlook.

Schweitzer held a similar meeting in May where he heard predictions of a ‘normal’ fire season. But that prediction was couched with a lot of uncertainty. Northern Rockies Coordination Center Predictive Service Meteorologist, Mike Kreyenhagen says mother nature is now showing her hand. Dry conditions continuing through July and August.

And while normally the state begins seeing season-ending rains in September, Kreyenhagen says he’s not sure what we’ll see this year.

“I think we may be scratching our heads wondering when we are gonna get out of this fire season. It looks like it’s going to proceed for some time,” he said.

Kreyenhagen says areas north of Helena are alright right now. It’s areas south of Helena all the way out to Miles City that are in trouble. He says, for the immediate future, he does not see extreme weather conditions like what has been seen so far in the fire season. “Which should be a nice break, I think we’re gonna make real progress on the fires on the ground.”

The National Weather Service is issuing red flag fire warnings for many parts of the state. Schweitzer has the authority to enact a statewide firework ban this 4th of July week. He has elected not to do that, leaving the decision to individual counties—and about a dozen have put bans in place.But Schweitzer has a stern warning for anyone thinking of using fireworks this year.

“If you purchase fireworks and because of the handling of those fireworks and you start a fire and you start burning homes and people’s assets you should know you are personally liable for those damages,” he said.

He says that’s the case even if your county has not banned fireworks. And Schweitzer wants people conscious of a lot more than fireworks.

“Let’s talk about campfires, let’s talk about barbecues, let’s talk about 4 wheeler’s, let’s talk about spark arresters on chainsaws,” he said. “Let’s talk about if you’re logging, let’s talk about what kind of rig you’re running around with in the woods.”

Schweitzer says the state legislature has specifically included money in the state budget for wildfire management for the first time. He says he’s not sure how much has been spent so far for wildfires, but it’s been in the millions.

Schweitzer feels pretty comfortable with the amount firefighting resources being used in Montana now. And he says national weather patterns may actually help the state gain more resources as the season progresses. States like Arizona and Colorado usually end up with more moisture in late June and July—versus April and May for Montana.

“And so those resources will increasingly become available as we get into our fire season,” Schweitzer said. And if forecast trends are correct, Montana may very well need those resources.

Click below for a map of current wildfires burning in Montana:

Wildfire Map



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