GATES OF THE MOUNTAIN — According to the Montana DNRC, there have been 420 wildfires to date in Montana with 68% or more than two-thirds being human-caused. The cool, wet spring has helped limit fire activity but Lewis and Clark Sheriff Leo Dutton and Wolf Creek-Craig Volunteer Fire Chief Rocky Infanger say people who plan to burn debris should still exercise caution.
"What we're looking at is closing debris burning for July and August, the two hottest months of the year. Try to reduce the number of unwanted fires," said Infanger.
Even though Lewis and Clark County has seen a wet spring so far, public officials don't want the public to forget how dry it can get.
"What we'd like to do is have people prepared for wildfire season, regardless of what the start is. Human-caused fires are one of our biggest problems, be it an escape campfire, or a debris burn that somebody thought was out, and a week later it ignites something and takes off. So what we're trying to do is reduce those starts," said Infanger.
Sheriff Dutton says residents who live in areas susceptible to wildfire should have a plan and be ready to evacuate if their home is threatened by fire.
"The best thing to do to avoid panic is training, and we train for evacuations, we work with other agencies, fire departments, other law enforcement agencies. Those will be critical in these times. We hope that we don't have any fires, but if we do, we're counting on citizens to be trained to help us," said Dutton.
Dutton and Wolf Creek Craig Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rocky Infanger stressed that when they close open burning, it applies to large organic waste fires and pile burning, and it doesn't impact small recreational and campfires.
"One thing important to note is this is not a restriction on campfires, on recreational fires. This is organic material that people would burn," said Dutton.
While burning remains open for now, it is important to remember that if you do plan to burn you need a permit, and need to activate it before each fire.
"The idea came from the fire department, I wholeheartedly support it, is to shut open debris burning down for these two months, and see how it goes. If it's raining in the entire month of July, then all of the experts are going to re-examine what we've done and see if we need to keep it close, but chances are they're not going to," said Dutton.
Sheriff Dutton plans to close open burning in July through August, but that date could be moved up if conditions warrant it.