Missoula fire officials, agencies to consider Stage 2 restrictions on Wednesday
Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
With no relief from the prologue heat in sight, members of the Missoula County Fire Protection Agency will meet on Wednesday to consider implementing Stage 2 fire restrictions.
The agency last week joined the Lolo National Forest in elevating the fire danger to 'extreme,' and given this week's forecast of temperatures in the upper 90s to 100 degrees, concerns over a large-scale fire continue to amplify.
Stage 2 restrictions would ban all campfires and off-road travel.
“Our restrictions and closures plan does call for us to go into Stage 2 fire restrictions based upon the conditions on the ground,” said Adrian Beck, director of Disaster and Emergency Services in Missoula County. “But we're continuing to see good success with initial attack and our resources aren't too strained.”
The Missoula office of the National Weather Service calls for temperatures of 96 degrees or higher all week, continuing what's been a hot and dry July and August.
Missoula has recorded five days over 100 degrees this summer, and temperatures could push that figure several days this week.
“If one of our land management agencies or one of our fire districts feels strongly about going into restrictions, and the indices and conditions are there, we tend to all go together,” Beck said. “It takes some administrative time for that process to go into effect and, obviously, whenever we impose a restriction, there's an expectation that we'll enforce it, and that does have a cost.”
A “bus” of lightning from last week's storms pushed fire crews with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation into action over the weekend, with several fires starting near Seeley Lake, Salmon Lake and Missoula.
But so far, Beck said, initial attack has managed to keep the fires at bay despite extreme conditions.
“We continue to be in extreme fire danger, but initial attack resources are being very successful,” Beck said. “We did have a lighting bus come in over the weekend with several new starts in Seeley, but all were found, had a response and everything seems to be in order.”
Missoula County already has reported more than 61 fires this year, and 80% of them have been caused by people. Ravalli County already has implemented Stage 2 conditions, as has the Bitterroot National Forest.
“They have a couple fires on the landscape that are straining their resources a little bit, and they're actually a little dryer than we are,” said Beck. “They're a little ahead of us in deteriorating conditions.”