James Dobson

(KPAX) Recent hot and dry conditions had the experts in Helena sending clear warnings on Tuesday as Gov. Greg Gianforte received the 2023 Fire Season Outlook Briefing at the Capitol.

Bureau of Land Management meteorologist Daniel Borsum told the governor to expect a longer fire season this year because of El Niño.

Additionally, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Fire Protection Bureau Chief Matt Hall told Gov. Gianforte that Montana has had 705 fires to date and a staggering 87% of them have been caused by people.

Borsum forecasted this weekend's heatwave to raise fire potential sharply in Northwest Montana, with the rest of the state following suit in the next few weeks.

"Those three counties up there — Glacier, Flathead, and Lincoln — are missing 20 inches of moisture or more in the last five years,” Borsum said. “That is not easily replaced with one rainstorm, three rainstorms, or an entire season. So that area has concerns that are going to linger for a while."

Missoula County fire officials raised the fire danger to High on Tuesday, and prolonged heat and a lack of rain will continue to lead to deteriorating conditions.

Gov. Gianforte’s response to this data was a clear message to start preparing for fire season now because it will be here soon.

"Be prepared by having an evacuation plan. If you're in an area that's vulnerable to fire you need to be ready to go,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Worse than the loss of structures is the loss of life. You have to get out of the way."