Fire Danger escalating, moving North in Montana

Fire Danger in many parts of the state is being elevated due to recent hot, dry weather. The Missoula area has now been elevated to having ‘Very High’ Fire Danger.

Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Information Officer Paula Short says wildfire conditions are moving north.

“The fire season has already been extreme across the Southern tier of the state, really from Miles City across to Billings but now we’re seeing it creeping north, We had some large fires in the Lewistown area,” Short said. “We’re picking up new starts out of our Missoula office, out of our Clearwater Unit Office out of Seeley Lake. Even up into Kalispell, which has been the wettest, coolest area of the state starting to get some new fires there with lightning.”

Rain storms have been moving around the state too, but they’re not wet enough to counteract the lightning that comes with them.

“The conditions are such right now that a lightning strike will lead to an ignition unless you get a significant amount of rain and that’s what we’re seeing around the state,” Short said.

Short says DNRC Field Units around the state reported between 60 and 80 fire starts over last weekend. Most of them were kept pretty small by initial attack crews. But two new fires added to what officials say will likely soon be called the Elbow Pass Complex burning Southwest of Augusta.

The original Elbow Pass fire began back on July 12th in the Scapegoat Wilderness Area. It’s about 700 acres and 80 percent contained yet dry winds caused some spotting over the weekend. Nearby, lightning caused the Rapid Creek fire on Sunday which has quickly grown to about a thousand acres in the Bob Marshall Wilderness as well as the Flathead and Lewis and Clark National Forests. This fire has a high growth potential Lewis and Clark National Forest Public Affairs Officer Dave Cunningham says crews are still trying to figure out its full scope.

“With smoke and everything at this point we’re not exactly sure really what the perimeter of that fire is,” Cunningham said.

Another fire in the area, the Triple Divide fire started Saturday in heavy timber. It’s expected to be about 7 acres in size.

Cunningham says crews are trying multiple strategies to contain these fires, but smoke could be rising for quite awhile.

“Commonly these large fires don’t totally go out until later in the fall when there’s rain or snow on them. We see that every year in Montana, I think folks understand that,” Cunningham said.

The DNRC says more than half of all Montana counties are under some type of fire restriction. Officials ask the public to make sure to know what restrictions are in place before recreating outdoors.


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