Posted: Jul 9, 2012 5:00 PM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
Updated: Jul 10, 2012 3:37 PM
HAMILTON - Bitterroot National Forest managers are keeping a close eye on the first fire of the season in the area, and say this is quickly shaping up to be the driest summer we've seen in five years.
With a small lightning-caused fire already burning in the backcountry of the West Fork of the Bitterroot, and red flag warnings posted for the remainder of the county, the Forest Service is becoming increasingly worried about the rapid spike in fire conditions over the past week.
Not only are trees and brush drying out a couple of weeks faster-than-average, the change is on par with the last major fire season of 2007, when the potential energy from fires hit all-time highs on the Bitterroot.
With temperatures crowding or even passing 100 degrees again today, the fire hazard is only expected to get worse. Combined with the threat of lightning sparking a fire, and more pine-beetle-kill trees than we had five years ago, and fire managers say we could be heading for a major blaze.
Bitterroot National Forest fire manager Rick Floch said the dead timber in higher elevations is drying out fast.
"So that's when we have our bigger fires, when those dead fuels in the higher elevations start to burn," Floch said. "And they're caused by lightning. We haven't had a lot of lightning storms but there's predicted afternoon storms...plus these really high temperatures. So we could kind of have the 'perfect storm' coming together in the next week or so."
Though no parts of the Bitterroot Forest have been closed yet, Floch said people need to make sure their campfires are "dead out," and smokers should only smoke in their vehicles.
Ravalli County Commissioners haven't enacted fire restrictions in the valley yet, but are expected to do so on Tuesday.