Lightning storms have kindled several fires in the greater Flathead area, but rain coming with those storms has kept fire danger in check.
Information Officer Wade Muehlhof for the Northwest Zone for Fire Restrictions says most activity has centered on the North Fork of the Flathead River.
“For whatever reason the North Fork seems to have dried out a little bit quicker than the rest of our area. We call that the Hay Creek Complex, and it was managed by a Type III fire team. They did a real great job of getting on top of all those fires, they were all managed for suppression, and right now they’re all contained and they’re in the mop up phase,” Muehlhof said.
The Hay Creek Complex includes 10 fires, and management has now shifted back to the Ranger District.
“Their job will be really to keep an eye on the area, make sure that we don’t have anything kind of pop up, what they call ‘hold-overs,’ where a tree, or some ground had been struck by lightning, it didn’t spark a fire, but there’s still embers smoldering, and then when you have a period of dry heat like we’re anticipating, sometimes then those come to life,” Muehlhof said.
That anticipated “dry heat” in the forecast is what is causing concern among land managers in the area.
“We’ve been very fortunate with the weather pattern that while it has brought us a fair amount of lightning, it’s also come with a fair amount of rain here in the last few weeks. So, we’re fairly green, but then going into a period where we could dry out, and those conditions could change,” Muehlhof said managers from Glacier National Park, Lake, Flathead, and Sanders counties, Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Kootenai and Flathead National Forests, and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation have started meeting weekly to look at the forecast and conditions to determine fire danger.
This area is not seeing any restrictions yet. Muehlhof said it’s a different situation south of the Flathead and into the Missoula area where land managers will be looking at fire restrictions in the next week.
“It’s really going to be important for people to stay vigilant with their campfires, with their cigarettes, with things that could be dragging from vehicles and causing sparks. This is the time of year where we really ask everybody to step up that vigilance and make sure that, if we are fighting wildfires, they’re because nature started them, and not because we started them,” Muehlhof said.
He also said this is a good time to talk about preventing human-caused wildfires as Friday the 8th marks Smokey the Bear’s 70th birthday.