County Officials Raise Fire Danger to Very High – Temperatures in the 90’s This Weekend [YouTube]
Officials with the Missoula County Fire Protection Association have raised the fire danger level from 'High' to "Very High" as of Monday afternoon.
Secretary Treasurer Chris Johnson, who works for the Lolo National Forest, explained why the fire danger was raised so early in the week.
"All our indices are about 30 days ahead of a normal fire season," Johnson said. "The indices that we're most concerned about are how dry the fuels are, and just this morning, we decided that as the Missoula County Fire Protection Association group that all the wildfire agencies in Missoula County were going to switch to very high."
Johnson said the fuels are very dry, but with just one saving grace.
"Really, the only thing that's keeping the small fires small right now is the green grass under the forest canopy," he said. "Anywhere there's cured grass right now, a fire can get away from someone very fast, so that's why we made the move this morning to Very High."
Johnson said one common theme emerged from conversations he has had with residents who have a fire escape their control.
"The most common thing was that everyone was just so surprised on how fast it got away from them," Johnson said. "If the wind hits a fire right now, it'll get away faster than people think."
Public Relations specialist with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Jordan Koppen, said fires can start almost anywhere at anytime.
"Just the other day we had a lawn mower fire," Koppen said. "In fact, we have a One Less Spark campaign going on right now, and we're just trying to let people know that all it takes is just one spark and a fire can burn out of control."
Koppen said mountain snowpack is practically non-existent, and that western Montana residents are being asked to be extremely cautious with campfires, to make sure the ashes are cold to the touch before leaving a campsite, and to never leave a campfire unattended.
The National Weather Service in Missoula is calling for temperatures in the mid to upper 90's this weekend, and possibly through the Fourth of July.