This year’s fire season is off to a slow start, but it could ramp up in July. That’s according an update Montana’s State Forester gave to state lawmakers Wednesday.
Rivers across Montana are running high and fast with snowmelt now, but by mid-summer parts of the state are expected to face above average dryness. State Forester Sonya Germann says that during this wet spring far fewer acres have burned at this point than the recent annual average.
“We were in this very similar position this time last year,” Germann says.
But over last summer that lush spring growth dried out, and then more than a million acres burned across the state. It was one of the most expensive fire seasons in the state’s history and state firefighting costs caused a big part of Montana’s recent budgeting problems.
Germann says the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is expected to have trained 3,000 firefighters by the end of June. She also says the state is currently running pre-fire season maintenance on engines, which is also expected to be done by the end of June.
“Despite the wet winter, we have an area of persistent moderate drought in the north-east corner of the state. We’re expecting normal conditions through June. But long range predictions indicate we’ll again have above normal conditions from central Montana through western Montana due to above average temperatures and below average preticipation from June through August.”
This means, Germann says, vegetation and trees that fuel fires are expected to be more likely than average to burn from late-July through August.
Montana state officials will have to actively monitor where and how national fire fighting resources are being used this summer, as those could be in high demand, like they were last year. According to Germann, the south-west of the United States remains in critically dry conditions.
After Montana’s fire fund was drained last year, a law was passed during the November special session to put $40 million put back into the fund. That law said the funds must be transferred by June 2018.
According to DNRC officials, as of Wednesday there was $4.1 million in the state’s Fire Suppression Fund to start the 2018 fire season.
Montana spent more than 74 million dollars fighting fire in 2017, according to analysis from the Montana Legislative Fiscal Division released last October.