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"Extreme" fire danger means any spark could start a blaze

Posted at 7:48 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 22:32:53-04

MISSOULA — With fire danger soaring from "high" to "extreme" in just a week, fire managers are warning Western Montana residents any spark could start a big blaze right now.

The fire danger levels are based on a variety of factors, such as weather conditions and especially the measurement of moisture content in fuels like grass, brush, and timber. And when we go to "extreme" that's the worst case scenario.

Sign outside DNRC office in Missoula carries the warning resulting from our record heatwave

"There is a high potential for any fire to be a big consequence. Fires start off of any cause and spread rapidly," explains DNRC Community Preparedness- Fire Prevention Specialist Kristin Mortenson. "They are difficult to control and often a direct attack can not be done. And they burn with very, very high intensity. So any spark can create a big fire."

Mortensen added because it is so early, you might think fuels are still "green". But a closer look shows how dry it's really become during this heatwave.

Dry grasses above Miller Creek in Missoula

Fields and roadside brush are especially dry, a concern because of sparks coming off trailers and towing equipment. But even larger fuels are reaching a critical stage. One measurement near Seeley Lake is actually the driest in nearly 20-years.

Since life can't come to a standstill, the partner agencies have a website which gives the statewide restrictions, important to check if you're traveling.

"That map will show you what fire restrictions are in every jurisdiction anywhere in Montana. And that is your first step. If you're out playing outdoors know the fire restrictions out there. Also, know where Smokey Bear's arm is so that you know what that fire danger is. And especially here, with extreme fire danger, we want to be very careful of anything that could produce sparks. If campfires are allowed where you're going, keep it small. Make sure to not leave it unattended and put it dead out before you leave." - DNRC Fire Prevention Specialist Kristin Mortenson

Those precautions are critical right now. Nearly 80% of our fires this year have been caused by people. Mortenson says it means we all need to be "smart with our sparks."