Fire season around corner, county restricts open burning

Fires are starting to pop up around western Montana on the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests, which means fire season for southwest Montana is just around the corner, said an official at the Madison Ranger District in Ennis.

“It’s slowly moving our direction,” said Jon Agner, Fire Management Officer with the Madison Ranger District. “We’re drying out.”

Right now things on the district and the rest of the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest are pretty quiet, but officials are sending off crews to help fight fires in western Montana, Agner said.

Two 20-person crews have been put together over the past two days for fires near Lolo and Condon, he said.

“We’re supplying four to five people for each crew they’re sending out,” Agner said.

The wet spring has led to a lush earlier summer, but conditions are drying out fast, he said. The grasses and shrubs in the lower elevations are dried out and the larger fuels in the higher elevations are drying out quickly.

With the lightning expected with storms this week, Agner is expecting to see a few small fires.

“If we do get a lightning strike we are probably going to get a fire out of it, but we’re not going to get really rapid spread in the higher elevations,” he said.

The fire danger on the forest is currently at moderate, but with the temperatures forecasted for the next week, it should move up to high next week, Agner said.

“We’re turning the corner now,” he said. “We’re getting to the point where we are going to start picking up fires if we have an ignition source.”

Right now there are no restriction on federal lands for campfires, but Agner cautions people to make sure campfires are completely out.

On private lands in Madison County, open burning has been shut down, said Chris Mumme, emergency management director for the county.

“We have such a high fuel load and although it is green we’ve been having some pretty dry winds,” Mumme said. “It’s ready to burn now. We’re just trying to be extra careful.”

Open burning applies to slash piles, ditches and yard debris, he said.

“Within the county and on private land we’re not going to allow open burning,” Mumme said.

This restriction will last until fire season passes. The county could institute more restrictions as the conditions become drier, he said.

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