The Bitterroot National Forest announced that it is raising its fire danger to “Very High” beginning Wednesday due to the extremely hot weather and dry fuel conditions.
When the fire danger is “Very High” fires will start from most causes. The fires will spread rapidly and have a quick increase in intensity, right after ignition. Small fires can quickly become large fires and exhibit extreme fire intensity, such as long-distance spotting and fire whirls.
Forest officials are asking the public to be extremely careful when camping and to properly maintain and extinguish campfires.
“For us to move from High fire danger to Very High in just a matter of days is really unprecedented,” said Fire Management Officer Mark Wilson. “The big concern right now is our high temperatures and things are drying out much quicker than normal with these record conditions."
"Even in the timbered stands, heavy fuels like standing dead trees and logs are already extremely dry. We are matching the record-setting conditions of 2017 and are already drier than average August conditions," Wilson added.
Forest officials note that “Very High” fire danger wasn't reached until August 19 last year and was only in that danger level for 28 days before conditions improved.
Those planning camping trips should follow these fire safety tips:
- Keep campfires small and completely extinguish them before leaving camp. The best method is to douse the fire with water, stir the ashes and douse again, making sure that all ashes are cold to the touch. It is illegal to have unattended campfires.
- Leaving a fire without completely extinguishing it is prohibited, and violators face substantial fines including potentially paying fire suppression costs -- which can easily run into the thousands if an unattended fire starts a wildfire.
- Smokers should light up only in areas cleared of all flammable debris. Cigarette butts should never be thrown from vehicle windows.
- Those exploring the forest and backcountry in vehicles must stay on established roads and trails and avoid driving over dry grass and brush that could be ignited by hot exhaust systems.
- Firewood cutters should operate chainsaws equipped with spark arresters in the cool morning hours and keep a shovel and fire extinguisher nearby.
- Recreational shooting? Take precautions! Never shoot into dry vegetation and always make sure you’re shooting in a safe location, away from roads, trails, campsites, and occupied areas. Be aware that shooting exploding targets is prohibited on National Forest System lands. Click here for more information.
- Know before you go. Always check with your local Ranger Station prior to your trip to get the most up-to-date information on fire danger and fire restrictions for the area.
Open burning is currently prohibited in Ravalli County. Camp and cooking fires are still allowed. Fire managers expect to see some form of fire restrictions implemented in the area soon, possibly as early as next week, if conditions do not improve. Click here to learn more about restrictions that are in place throughout Montana.
According to a news release, firefighters on the Bitterroot National Forest have extinguished 11 human-caused fires and 13 lightning fires so far this year.