Fire season gets busier around southwest Montana

Fires continue to pop up around southwest Montana as old lightning strikes rear their heads.

In the last three days, crews have found eight fires across the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, said acting fire management officer Jon Agner.

More are likely to show up in the next few days, Agner said.

“We’ve got some sleepers out there that are going to start showing when it gets windier and drier,” he said. “I think it will be a test day for us on Thursday.”

On Thursday, forecasters with the National Weather Service in Great Falls have issued a fire weather watch for gusty winds and warm and dry conditions. The culprit is a cold front moving southeast out of Canada, said Paul Nutter, forecaster with the weather service.

The cold front will cause gusty winds and low humidity as it passes, making for particularly volatile fire conditions, he said.

“We’re not expecting a lot of moisture from this cold front in southwest Montana,” Nutter said.

North and eastern Montana is looking for a 40 to 50 percent chance of rain, but in Madison County the chance of precipitation associated with the cold front is a dismal 20 percent.

However, temperatures on Friday will drop below normal into the 70s, he said.

The afternoon thunderstorms that have been bringing both rain and lightning to the region are also expected to disappear, Nutter said. The storms were a result of monsoonal moisture working its way north out of the Southwest. However, this moisture is shifting east to Utah and Wyoming.

By the weekend, the high pressure that’s dominated weather in the West for the last few weeks will rebuild over the region and bring back above normal temperatures with little or no precipitation, he said.

It’s not going to take things to get much drier before the fire danger levels reach extreme, Agner said.

Making things even more challenging is fire season is beginning to crank up around Montana, stretching resources, he said.

The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has got help from a couple of engine crews from Arizona and they’ll be needed.

“We’re kind of getting stretched to where everybody is engaged,” Agner said.

Fire restrictions are still in effect around Madison County, which means campfires outside of a developed campsite are illegal, as are fireworks and any open burning.

In other fire news, the community wildfire protection plan presentation and barbecue planned for Aug. 8 in Sheridan has been cancelled. It may be rescheduled at another day.

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