MISSOULA – Both western and northwestern Montana are now under Stage II fire restrictions.
That means the summer will be without campfires now that most lands in those areas.
The ban, which also restricts outdoor smoking and other work activities, impacts federal, tribal, state and private lands. The goal is to cut the risk of people starting a fire during our hot and dry weather.
Missoula fire officials are advising residents to be proactive about fire suppression by clearing debris and removing dead and dry limbs from trees — but people should avoid using chainsaws for that chore.
“So, handsaws or just little things. Clearing out your gutters of pine needles and debris, removing log piles from underneath your deck,” advised Missoula City Assistant Fire Chief Gordy Hughes.
Flathead County Fire Service Manager Lincoln Chute said it’s disappointing that in the last five days there have been 22 human-caused *preventable* fires.
“We really tried to push the information out to the public that it’s dry and we need to take special concerns and cautions — and it didn’t work,” Chute said. We’re still getting a lot of human caused fires and that really forced the fire management into requesting from all the agencies to go to Stage 2 fire restrictions.”
One weekend fire along Highway 93 near Kalispell was human-caused. Other fires have been started by leftover campfires, dragging chains and people throwing cigarettes out their car windows.
The fear is how fast fires can ignite right now as the hot, dry and windy weather continues.
“We are aggressively fighting the new fire starts, hitting them with everything we have to keep them small because we know with the condition we have if they get established the likelihood is they will be a long-duration fire,” Chute said.
“And that’s the concern with these human-caused fires. If we have one that we don’t quite get to quick enough or two start about the same time and we don’t catch one it could be with us for months and the resources nationally are stretched thin,” he added.
The purpose of Stage II is to reduce the risk of human-caused fires during periods of extreme fire danger. Critical fire conditions: dry fuels, hot temperatures, low humidity, and high winds are expected to persist.
State, county, and private jurisdictions implementing restrictions:
- MT-DNRC Southwestern Land Office/State Land and private classified ‘Forested’ Lands within *Granite, Lake, Missoula, Mineral, Ravalli, Sanders, and **Powell County
- Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Region 1&2 within Missoula Restrictions Area
- Counties: Granite, Lake, Missoula, Mineral, Ravalli, and Sanders
- The city of Missoula has agreed to join the federal, state, and county officials into Stage II restrictions on its open spaces, conservation lands, and non-irrigated park lands.
- Bitterroot National Forest
- Lolo National Forest
- Flathead Indian Reservation
- Missoula Field Office BLM
- US Fish and Wildlife Service
*Granite County lands north of I-90.
**Powell County lands north of I-90. Powell County is not implementing Stage II Restrictions on private lands that are not classified ‘Forested.’
Missoula Fire Chief Jason Diehl and Mayor John Engen have decided to join federal, state and county officials in moving to Stage II restrictions because of continuing dry conditions and hot weather.
“If conditions continue, we may consider closures of certain areas,” Diehl said. Further restrictions may involve closures of public lands but most likely will be recreational “hoot owl” closures beginning in the afternoons.
Under STAGE II the Following Acts are prohibited:
- Building maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire.
- Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.
The following acts are prohibited from 1:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. except as otherwise described below:
- Operating any internal combustion engine.
- Welding, or operating acetylene or other torches with open flame.
- Using an explosive. (a one-hour foot patrol in the work area is required following the cessation of all activities.)
- Operating motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails.
Exemptions to Stage II Restrictions:
- Persons with a written permit specifically authorizing the otherwise prohibited act.
- Persons using a device solely fueled by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels that can be turned on and off. Such devices can only be used in an area that is barren or cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable material within three feet of the device.
- Operating generators with an approved spark arresting device within an enclosed vehicle or building or in an area that is barren or cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within three feet of the generator.
- Operating motorized vehicles on designated roads and trails.
- Emergency repair of public utilities and railroads.
- Persons conducting activities in those designated areas where the activity is specifically authorized by written posted notice.
- Any Federal, State, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.
- Other exemptions unique to each agency/tribe.
Both Eric Clements and Nicole Miller contributed to this story