Plumes of smoke can be seen throughout the national forests throughout the spring, as officials use fire as a tool to protect habitat and forestall greater danger during the upcoming fire season.

Spokesman Boyd Hartwig with the Lolo National Forest said smoke will be visible from highways in the area.

"With the exception of Seeley, all the districts are scheduling prescribed burning, as Seeley is too high and wet, but the others, like Plains, Superior, Nine Mile and Missoula all either have burned or are planning burns in the next days and weeks," Hartwig said. "We burn to reduce surface fuels, so that especially in the wildland-urban interface, when we get into fire season in July and August, we won't have that material that might carry fire into large stands and become a crown fire and threaten homes and other property."

Hartwig said officials only burn when weather and fuel conditions are optimal.

"They look at the moisture of the fuel they're burning, and then they look at the weather conditions, they look at terrain, they look at all those factors before they make the decision to plan a prescribed burn," he said. "We also always consider smoke impacts and other protocols, and sometimes we don't know for sure until that morning if we're going to burn. This weekend, we're burning in the Nine Mile district, so be prepared to see some smoke in the area."

Hartwig said emergency services are aware of the prescribed burns on National Forest lands, and there are private burn permits issued in the areas, as well.

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