It’s time again to leave the matches home.
On Friday, Bitterroot National Forest and Ravalli County will implement Stage II fire restrictions that prohibit all campfires on both public and private lands.
“We are currently at record-setting levels for dryness for this time of year,” said Bitterroot National Forest Fire Management Officer Mark Wilson. “I think everyone can see the conditions changing the valley bottom. We’re really seeing the grasses cure out, so that’s going to make a big difference with fires that start as they have the potential to spread very quickly.”
Fire danger will officially be raised to “extreme” on the Bitterroot Forest on Friday, which could be the hottest day of the year, with some forecasts saying temperatures may reach 105. Cooler temperatures closer to normal are expected to arrive starting Saturday, but the dry cold front that’s bringing them here will come with wind and potentially some dry lightning.
Ravalli County Fire Warden Brad Mohn said there have not been a lot of out-of-control grass fires so far this summer, but the conditions in the valley are about as dry as they get.
“We’re going to go through three days pushing 100 degrees with no moisture in sight,” Mohn said. “Moving to Stage II restrictions is a proactive, preventative measure. We’re hoping to keep any fires from getting started. …This isn’t just happening in Ravalli County. I think pretty much everyone in western Montana is facing the same situation.”
While the restrictions don’t officially start until Friday, Mohn encourages people to wait until conditions change to do anything that could cause a spark nearly anything flammable.
“Right now is not a good time to start a campfire,” he said.
Besides prohibiting campfires, Stage II fire restrictions require that motorized vehicles remain on designated trails. Firewood cutting is not allowed between 1 p.m. and 1 a.m. Smokers must stay inside enclosed vehicles, buildings or flammable-free areas. Welding or use of an acetylene torch is not allowed. Neither are explosives of any type.
Gas camp stoves that can be turned on and off are allowed
Fire restrictions are not in effect in the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church areas in Idaho and the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness in Montana.
Temporary firewood areas that opened back in June on the Bitterroot Forest will close Friday due to the increased fire risks.
Bitterroot National Forest firefighters have found and extinguished a large number of abandoned campfires this summer.
“So far, we’ve been fortunate that none have really escaped in any crucial areas,” Wilson said. “The county’s burn permit system has done a really good job in shutting open burning down at the right time. I think the public is getting more in tune with that, which really helps.”
This year’s the danger of wildfire may go well into fall. The long-range forecast calls for below-normal precipitation through September and October and normal temperatures.
“September can sometimes feel not a lot different than August,” Wilson said.