With no relief from the prologue heat in sight, members of the Missoula County Fire Protection Agency will meet on Wednesday to consider implementing Stage II fire restrictions.
The agency last week joined the Lolo National Forest in elevating the fire danger to 'extreme,' and given this week's forecast of temperatures in the upper 90s to 100º, concerns over a large-scale fire continue to amplify.
Stage II restrictions would ban all campfires and off-road travel.
“Our restrictions and closures plan does call for us to go into Stage 2 fire restrictions based upon the conditions on the ground,” said Missoula County Disaster and Emergency Services director Adrian Beck. “But we're continuing to see good success with initial attack and our resources aren't too strained.”
Missoula has recorded five days over 100º this summer, and temperatures could push that figure several days this week.
“If one of our land management agencies or one of our fire districts feels strongly about going into restrictions, and the indices and conditions are there, we tend to all go together,” Beck said. “It takes some administrative time for that process to go into effect and, obviously, whenever we impose a restriction, there's an expectation that we'll enforce it, and that does have a cost.”
A “bus” of lightning from last week's storms pushed fire crews with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation into action over the weekend, with several fires starting near Seeley Lake, Salmon Lake and Missoula.
But so far, Beck said, initial attack has managed to keep the fires at bay despite extreme conditions.
“We continue to be in extreme fire danger, but initial attack resources are being very successful,” Beck said. “We did have a lighting bus come in over the weekend with several new starts in Seeley, but all were found, had a response and everything seems to be in order.”
Missoula County already has reported more than 61 fires this year, and 80% of them have been caused by people. Ravalli County already has implemented Stage 2 restrictions, as has the Bitterroot National Forest.
“They have a couple fires on the landscape that are straining their resources a little bit, and they're actually a little dryer than we are,” said Beck. “They're a little ahead of us in deteriorating conditions.”
Under Stage II fire restrictions, the following acts are prohibited until further notice:
- Building maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire.
- Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.
The following acts are prohibited from 1:00 pm to 1:00 am:
- Operating any internal combustion engine.
- Welding, or operating acetylene or other torch with an open flame.Using an explosive.
- Operating motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails.
Exemptions (note: an exemption does not absolve an individual or organization from liability or responsibility for any fire started by the exempted activity.)
- Persons with a written waiver that specifically authorizes the otherwise prohibited act.Persons using a device fueled solely by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels that can be turned on and off. Such devices can only be used in an area that is barren or cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within 3 feet of the device.
- Operating generators with an approved spark arresting device within an enclosed vehicle or building or in an area that is barren or cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within three feet of the generator.
- Operating motorized vehicles on designated roads and trails.
- Emergency repair of public utilities and railroads as per attached conditions.
- Persons conducting activities in those designated areas where the activity is specifically authorized by written posted notice.
- Any Federal, State, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.
- All land within a city boundary is exempted.
- Other exemptions unique to each agency/tribe.