Wildfire experts are saying the upcoming fire season will be ‘above normal’, meaning more than 300,000 acres burned, due to hotter, drier conditions through September.

Michael Richmond, meteorologist with Predictive Services at the Northern Rockies Coordination Center for the U.S. Forest Service, said his office works off of computer models for the upcoming fire season.

“We do issue seasonal assessments going out about four months every month,” said Richmond from his office at the Fire Sciences building at the Smoke Jumper Center in Missoula. “We use long-range climate modeling for those outlooks. We go out through September now. Like last year, it is possible to go from very wet conditions to very above normal fire conditions in three weeks as we saw last July. It would be highly unlikely to have a season as intense as last year, specifically in western Montana.”

Richmond said June will be relatively normal, but things will begin to change in July.

“We are expecting above normal fire potential in western Montana in July and August and probably continuing into September,” he said. “However, you have to keep in mind, this is only based on temperatures and precipitation, because it’ll be warmer and drier than average for that period.”

Richmond said the fire seasons vary greatly in size and scope.

“Most of the fire seasons have been 300,000 acres or less,” he said. “Then we have peaks every three to six years where they’re 750,000 acres to last year’s biggest total which was 1.55 million acres. We can’t really say if we’ll have a peak or not because we can’t forecast the lightning, so that’s the wild card, right there.”

The month of July was pivotal in the 2017 western Montana fire season, according the fire information website Inciweb.

The 53,000 acre Lolo Peak Fire was lightning caused, starting on July 15, while the 26,000 acre Sunrise Fire near Superior was lightning caused, and started on July 16.

The Rice Ridge Fire was also lightning caused and started on July 24. It burned over 160,000 acres.


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