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What “very high” fire danger means for Western Montana

Waterworks Hill Grass Fire
Posted at 5:18 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 13:12:33-04

MISSOULA — From the 4th of July fireworks to Wednesday’s lightning-caused fires in Sanders County, fire crews have been busy this past week.

It’s just another reason officials in Western Montana are raising the fire danger to "Very High."

The fire danger level for the Missoula area jumped from high to very high on Tuesday and the Bitterroot National Forest soon followed suit.

Missoula Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) spokeswoman Kristin Mortenson says it was only a matter of time.

“A lot of it is precipitated by our extreme heatwave. We had very, very hot temperatures which dried out our vegetations very quickly,” Mortenson said.

She explained there are several ingredients that contribute to our fire danger recipe and that those variables can change quickly.

Very High Fire Danger

“Changes in levels in fire danger are based on analysis of various indices that measure fuels, weather, topography, and risk,” Mortenson said. “You also take into consideration the human factor.”

So, what does a jump in fire danger from high to very high really mean?

“That brings with it that extra caution, fires can start reading from any cause. Mowing your lawn and the blade hitting a rock, welding in your garage and maybe there’s a patch of weeds just around the corner, hooking up your trailer and the chains might be dragging those sparks can create a fire.” - DNRC spokeswoman spokeswoman Kristin Mortenson

With a large number of small fire starts across western Montana in recent days, Mortenson says people play a large role in what lies ahead for the summer of 2021.

“Eighty percent of all of our wildfires are actually started by humans…that’s 100% preventable!”

Mortenson says that while there are still a number of variables in play that have yet to be determined, she believes the combination of a warm and dry forecast for the rest of the summer will likely push fire danger to extreme at some point.

Additional information about fire restrictions around Montana can be found here.