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Hot, dry weather increases Western Montana wildfire risk - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Hot, dry weather increases Western Montana wildfire risk

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MISSOULA - The story of our Montana wildfire season through Monday afternoon was, so far, so good.

But hot and dry weather in recent weeks has left us on the brink of a wildfire outbreak, and lightning on Monday night and Tuesday across parts of the state could be the beginning of a change. 

“The overall fire potential is increasing. We’ve had two to three weeks of dry weather with no rainfall, basically, from the Continental Divide westward, and we’re getting a little bit of lightning,” says Northern Rockies Coordination Center Meteorologist Michael Richmond.

Areas that are now of particular concern are those that have been hit the hardest with lightning over the last 24 hours, including a stretch between Great Falls and Helena, and continuing from Helena to Bozeman.

Another spot to watch is southwest Montana into Idaho as winds increase on Tuesday into Wednesday, spreading potential lightning-induced fire starts. Richmond says coming weeks in the near future are promising, but can’t promise anything beyond that.

“I’m not really expecting to see any real lightning potential after (Tuesday) for at least a week if not longer, maybe a couple of weeks," Richmond said. "It is possible we could have widespread lightning outbreaks and ignitions in August at any time.”

Even eastern Montana, where rain has been more plentiful has reason for concern, as growth quickly dries. Richmond says, “The accumulation of grasses that will be drying and curing over the next few weeks will be very heavy and that can create very intense fire behavior.”

It is possible we could skate by fire season without a peak if lightning stays away, as happened in the very dry summer of 2013. Even then, humans play a big role in determining what kind of season we ultimately have. 

“People have to be very careful in the woods with campfires and power equipment, lawn mowing, all of those activities."

So as we wait for Mother Nature to take her course over the next few weeks, we can at least be thankful that we haven’t experienced the fast and furious start to the 2017 fire season. And we can hope that any thunderstorms we do see will also provide a soaking rain minimizing the concern that lightning brings.

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