HAMILTON — Ravalli County becomes the latest jurisdiction to employ Stage II fire restrictions as a means of countering the extreme fire danger caused by the current hot, dry weather.
Ravalli County commissioners were briefed Monday morning by local fire managers, who said while the Bitterroot is keeping ahead of a number of smaller wildfires that have started, there's growing concern over what the coming weeks will bring.
Bitterroot National Forest's fire manager told the board that readings of the "energy release component", a figure which measures how dry fire fuels are, is at the highest level in a decade. That means any spark now could easily start fires.
"We're running right now at 99 to 100 percentile, which means we're maxed out," Bitterroot National Forest Fire Manager Mark Wilson told the board. "As dry as it's ever been in the last 10-years. If it gets any drier we're moving into record setting dryness."
Ravalli County Fire Warden Brad Mohn said the county traditionally follows the Forest Service so it's easier for everyone to follow the restrictions.
"Historically the county has followed the Forest Service when they go to Stage 2 restrictions we do as well, just to lessen the public's confusion if it's straight across the board. I think it goes without saying the county's very dry as well. So I would fully support going into this Stage 2 restrictions."
Under the Stage II restrictions, which go into effect immediately, all campfires are banned, and "hoot owl" restrictions are in effect for logging and other industrial operations. However, the county is granting an exemption to agricultural operations, as long as fire extinguishers are kept nearby.
The move comes after Bitterroot National Forest enacted Stage II fire restrictions over the weekend.
Bitterroot National Forest crews were kept busy with a couple of smaller fires over the weekend, including a "hold over" lightning fire from last week on Hughes Creek, which burned about 2.5 acres.
The Forest Service is setting up a "SEAT", or single engine air tanker base at Ravalli County Airport in Hamilton this week to keep equipment close for fast response to fires where needed.