The Bitterroot National Forest announced Monday it is raising its fire danger level to "Extreme" due to continued hot weather and record dry fuel conditions.
A U.S. Forest Service news release says fires under extreme conditions "start quickly, spread furiously, and burn intensely." All fires are potentially serious with faster development into high intensity burning possible, even on smaller fires.
The release said the Bitterroot National Forest has not reached extreme fire danger levels since August of 2018.
“I don’t believe we’ve ever gone to this fire danger level this early on the forest,” said Mark Wilson, Fire Management Officer. “Last week, I said our high temperatures and dry fuel conditions were ‘unprecedented’ and ‘record-setting’. You can now add ‘historic’ to the 2021 fire season, which is already shaping up to be one of the hottest and driest on record.”
Officials are asking anyone camping or visiting the forest to use the utmost caution.
“People really need to be more careful, because it’s just getting drier and drier out there,” said Brad Mohn, Ravalli County Fire Warden. “Another problem we deal with often is the improper disposal of cigarettes, especially along the highway. Cigarette butts should never be thrown from vehicle windows.”
Fire safety tips for campers include:
- Pay extra attention to those items that can cause a spark, such as chains on a trailer. Any spark has the potential to ignite a wildfire.
- 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.
- 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.
- Firewood cutters should operate in the cool morning hours and keep a shovel and fire extinguisher nearby. All chainsaws must be equipped with a muffler and spark arrester. Temporary firewood cutting areas that opened on the forest back in June are also closing due to increased fire risks.
- 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, although camp and cooking fires are still allowed.
The release said fire managers are expecting fire restrictions in the area as early as this week.