With hot and dry conditions dominating the landscape of Madison County, officials with local, state and federal agencies have implemented restrictions on open burning and campfires.
“As of three days ago, we were tracking at almost historically dry conditions this year,” said Jon Agner, Fire Management Officer at the Madison Ranger District.
Typically this time of year southwest Montana is just beginning to emerge from spring and ease into summer. But this year’s snowpack was a bit below normal and April and May were much dryer than usual and that set up for an early fire season, Agner said.
If it seems like snow coated the mountains just a few days ago, that’s because it did. Just like last year, mountain snowstorms occurred more than once in early June.
But last week temperatures turned hot and the wind cranked up.
“It didn’t take any time at all and the fire danger spiked on us,” Agner said.
The moisture content of the heavy fuels in the forest are down to 11 percent, he said. That is indicative of a drought.
On the Pony Fire last week, Agner saw places were the fire burned through areas where snowdrifts still lingered. It’s uncommon for it to be this dry this early.
“We’re a month ahead of where we’d be normally,” he said.
The fire danger on the Madison Ranger District is High and if temperatures stay high and there’s no rain, the fire danger will continue to rise.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest implemented level 1 fire restrictions on Friday. This means campfires can only be in developed campgrounds with fire rings. Smoking is also prohibited except in an enclosed vehicle, building or developed recreation site.
Possession or use of fireworks is prohibited on Forest Service land.
The Bureau of Land Management has also implemented similar restrictions on their land.
Fireworks are also illegal on all state land as well.
In anticipation of a long fire season, fire officials in Montana are requesting resources from New Mexico, Arizona and western Texas, where summer monsoons are about to end fire season, Agner said.
He expects that some of those resources, including wildland fire engines, will be heading to Montana by the end of the week.
Madison County has implemented level 2 fire restrictions, said Chris Mumme, Madison County director of emergency management.
The county’s level 2 restrictions prohibit all open burning, including charcoal fires and smoking. They also prohibit fireworks and operating a welding or acetylene or other torch with open flame.
Though the occasional thunderstorm may seem to bring relief, the brief moisture isn’t enough to reduce the fire danger, Mumme said.
“It’s only another day or two and we’ll start having conditions like we did last week and we’ll be right back at it,” he said. “This could go on all summer if we don’t get any relief.”
It’s important for people to always remember to be careful as the summer wears on, Agner said.
“We’re setting up for a very long fire season,” he said.