By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

With conditions moving toward the drier side of extreme, Missoula area fire managers are expected to increase the fire danger to its highest level in the coming days.

They'll also discuss on Monday implementing Stage 2 fire restrictions, which would ban all campfires and off-road travel.

“It really is a response to trying to narrow down any of the human-caused fire potential that we can,” said Adrian Beck, director of Disaster and Emergency Services for Missoula County. “While the conditions are pretty ripe for going into Stage 2, we're not quite there yet. We'll have another conversation on Monday.”

The energy release component – the measure used to gauge a fire's potential to start and spread – is growing more intense with every passing day, Beck said.

Despite the dangerous conditions, record heat and dry lighting, only a handful of fires have ballooned into a major incident this summer. Beck attributed that to responsive fire crews.

The Elmo fire near Flathead Lake. (Photo courtesy of Butch Larcomb via KPAX)
The Elmo fire near Flathead Lake. (Photo courtesy of Butch Larcomb via KPAX)

“It's remarkable that we've had as clear as air as we've had, but we're continuing to monitor things,” she said. “There's been a lot of initial attack activity that, fortunately, has been taken care of initial attack and hasn't escaped those efforts.”

Beck said some surrounding counties are moving toward Stage 1 restrictions, though the conversation in Missoula County as to what's appropriate continue.

Beck said local fire officials are leery of implementing Stage 1 restrictions and have shied away from doing so over the past five years.

“They tend to be confusing for the public and they're really hard for us to manage as a local government,” Beck said. “But we'll typically go into Stage 2 when appropriate.”

Beck said that could happen next week, and the fire danger could be bumped to extreme on Thursday or Friday.

“Expect to see Smokey's arm change,” she said.