MISSOULA — Missoula County announced on Monday afternoon that fire danger in the county has increased from moderate to high.
Warmer, drier conditions have moved the scales with recent lightning storms igniting a dozen fires in the area, according to the county. Since grasses remain green in the forest and moisture remains high, all of those fires have been less than a third of an acre in size.
Human caused fires are the major point of emphasis for wildland fire managers. Fire danger at lower elevations is more likely to spread in valley bottoms as grasses begin to cure. There has been a significant increase in forest visitation in 2020, as many have seized the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of outdoor recreation during the pandemic.
With the increased use, public lands employees have seen an increase in abandoned campfires. This is a concerning trend as conditions will get hotter and drier in the coming weeks. As an alternative to campfires, the public is encouraged to use stoves that can be turned on and off. These types of stoves are legal throughout fire season, even if restrictions are in place.
Best practices for campfires include:
- Campfires in Montana cannot exceed 3’ high and 3’ wide.
- Campfires are best lit in metal rings; rock rings with two feet of soil cleared of flammable vegetation are a second-best choice. If a rock ring is your only option, try to locate your camp where a rock ring already exists to lighten your impact.
- Campfires should never be left unattended. This is especially dangerous in the heat of the day, when winds pick up and light fuels dry out.
- A campfire isn’t dead-out until it is cold to the touch. Drown your campfire with water, stir the coals in the water with a shovel, and feel the coals with the back of your hand to ensure they’re out. This is the same procedures firefighters us during the “mop-up” phase of firefighting.
- Visit BeOutdoorSafe.org to help spread the word and be an active steward of our great outdoors.
The county adds that many firefighters are returning from an active fire season in Arizona, and they’re gearing up for fire season in the Northern Rockies. Forest visitors will begin to see active patrols around campgrounds and in sites outside of campgrounds that are frequently used for camping.
Please drive carefully in the woods. There are two good rules of thumb that every Montana resident and visitor should know:
- Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop in half the distance you can see.
- Give the right of way to vehicles coming down the hill. It is easier for uphill traffic to slow down and pull safely into a wide turnout.