Fire danger in northwest Montana forests has been moved to “high” ahead of a weekend forecasted to be hot and dry.
Managers on the Flathead and Kootenai National Forests are anticipating higher risk for fire starts as temperatures continue into the 90s and dead brush dries out. The “high” fire danger designation means fires can start easily from most causes.
While no fire restrictions are in place at this time, Janette Turk, spokesperson for the Flathead National Forest, urges forest visitors to be aware of the conditions. That includes keeping campfires confined to rock rings and attending campfires at all times.
"And when you prepare to leave, you're going to put it out properly," Turk says. "Water, stirring, more water, hand above the coals. Is it cold? Is it dead out?"
Firefighters have already responded to 15 fire starts since the end of June on the Fathead Forest. Eleven of those were human-caused.
Crews on the Kootenai National Forest have been fighting a 31-acre burn outside Rexford since July 3. The South Fork Hill Fire ignited during a lightning storm that also sparked other small spot fires. A Type 3 Incident Management team is overseeing firefighting efforts with a staff of 91 people. Crews have built a line around the fire, which hasn’t grown since ignition and isn’t threatening any structures.
In Butte, the Bureau of Land Management has issued a Fire Prevention Order temporarily closing its North Hills area to shooting.
The field office issued the order to temporarily prohibit the discharge of firearms in the North Hills area 10 miles northeast of Helena, effective 12:01 a.m. on July 8 until further notice.
The order stems, in part, from upcoming hot weather conditions in the area and from a shooting-related fire that started in the North Hills area over the July 4th holiday.
“Normally we see several of these shooting-related fires every season, though usually not until later in July,” said Scott Haight, field manager for the Butte Field Office. “This year, we’ve already had one fire and need to take steps now to prevent additional ignitions. Though we’re always reluctant to issue restrictions, the fire potential in the North Hills warrants taking this extra precaution.”
Haight emphasized that access to the BLM’s property in the North Hills area is still open to the public for a variety of recreational activities; the Fire Prevention Order only applies to shooting firearms.
“I anticipate being able to lift the restriction sometime early in the fall or when weather conditions change,” he said.
A copy of the Fire Prevention Order and a map of the affected area are available at the Butte Field Office, 106 North Parkmont, Butte, MT 59701. For more information, call (406) 533-7600.
It’s so hot and dry in south-central Montana that local, state and federal officials have implemented Stage One fire restrictions.
Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Sarah Holm says those restrictions went into effect today for Bighorn, Stillwater and Treasure counties:
“What we’re trying to do is prevent the fires that can be caused because of these high temperatures and low humidity," Holm says. "Everything is so very dry. It’s not so much a warning that things are getting up to that point. We’re basically saying, ‘we’re there’."
Stage One fire restriction mainly apply to campfires and smoking. Under them, building, maintaining or using campfires is prohibited unless within a developed campsite or fire ring.
Smoking is also prohibited, except within a building, enclosed vehicle, or developed campsite. Smoking is also allowed in areas at least three feet in diameter that is cleared of all flammable materials.
There are exceptions to Stage One restrictions. For example, they don’t apply to city lands.
Yellowstone and Musselshell counties entered Stage One Fire restrictions on June 30th.