NewsWildfire Watch


Frenchtown incident spotlights dangers of human-caused fires

Posted at 4:05 PM, Jul 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-31 18:05:42-04

MISSOULA – It may seem as though we’re escaping a bad fire season this summer, but things are just getting started.

Fire agencies across western Montana have responded to a rash of human-caused fires in recent days.

For example, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe have dealt with two human-caused fires that were suspicious in nature — one started by an abandoned campfire, and another by a vehicle.

The very hot and dry conditions persisting in the forecast have authorities saying that it’s critical for folks to take some extra steps to prevent fire starts.

A case in point could be seen Monday when fire crews scrambled to subdue a wildfire south of Frenchtown that was suspected to be human-caused. Several agencies responded to reports of smoke in Dry Gulch just after 2 p.m. It turned out that the half-acre blaze was sparked by a campfire that was left unattended.

“We’ve had that issue for the last couple weeks now, a lot of people just leaving their campfires and that’s exactly how we have potential to get a large wildfire. We’re trying to send that message that one less spark means one less wildfire,” Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Fire Prevention Specialist Jordan Koppen said.

He added that crews have also been busy checking lightning sparked starts in recent days: “We had quite a few lightning fires, surprisingly, just from that little storm that came over and picked up quite a few little fires, and that is what we need to focus on right now.”

Mother Nature can’t be stopped from sparking wildfires, but it’s a different story with human-caused fires. Koppen offered up some tips on how to keep a campfire under control and, ultimately, extinguished.

“When you are ready to leave your fire, you need to extinguish it. You need to put it out all the way. That means drowning it, completely drowning it, put as much water as you can on it, and then stir it around, and then drown it again, and then you feel so its cold to the touch,” Koppen explained.

Fire managers caution that although there are no restrictions in place right now, that could change if there more human-caused fires in the area. The fire danger is currently listed as “very high” across much of western and northwest Montana.

Reporting by Augusta McDonnell for MTN News