The Bitterroot National Forest has raised its fire danger level to “extreme” due to continued hot weather and record dry fuel conditions.
Extreme is the highest danger level, indicating all fires are deemed serious as they start quickly, spread furiously and burn intensely.
August of 2018 was the last time the Bitterroot National Forest reached extreme fire danger levels.
Fire Management Officer Mark Wilson said he believes this is the first year the forest has been at this fire level so early in the summer.
“Last week, I said our high temperatures and dry fuel conditions were ‘unprecedented’ and ‘record-setting,’” he said. “You can now add ‘historic’ to the 2021 fire season, which is already shaping up to be one of the hottest and driest on record.”
Currently, conditions across the forest match the record conditions of 2017 and are already drier than average August conditions.
“People really need to be more careful, because it’s just getting drier and drier out there,” said Brad Mohn, Ravalli County fire warden. “Another problem we deal with often is the improper disposal of cigarettes, especially along the highway. Cigarette butts should never be thrown from vehicle windows.”
Visitors to the forest are asked to be careful.
Pay extra attention to chains on a trailer and other items that can cause a spark and start a wildfire. Vehicles must stay on roads and trails and avoid driving over dry grass and brush that could be ignited by hot exhaust systems. Keep campfires small and completely extinguish after use. To put out a fire douse with water, stir the ashes and douse with water again. Touch all ashes to be sure they are cold. Never leave a campfire unattended, it is illegal.
Firewood cutters should operate in the cool morning hours and have a shovel and fire extinguisher nearby. Chainsaws must have a muffler and spark arrester. Temporary firewood cutting areas that opened on the forest back in June are also closing due to increased fire risks.
Before heading into the forest check with your local ranger station for up-to-date information on fire danger and fire restrictions.
Open burning is currently prohibited in Ravalli County.
Camp and cooking fires are still allowed but may soon be restricted. To learn more about current fire restrictions in Montana, visit mtfireinfo.org.
Hazy skies are due to a ridge of high pressure bringing hot temperatures and smoke from wildfires in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. For the latest air quality information visit svc.mt.gov/deq/todaysair.
Do not fly drones near wildfires as it stops all air wildfire-fighting operations. To learn more visit fs.usda.gov/managing-land/fire/aviation/uas/responsible-use.