Rain Cools Western Montana, But Fire Danger Remains Very High
Persistent rain and cooler temperatures brought welcome relief to parts of parched western Montana this past weekend.
Fire managers say the rain has helped, but they’re also warning the public against letting its guard down.
National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Kitsmiller says Saturday's band of precipitation stretched from Great Falls to Helena, east to Seeley Lake. It wetted-down Plains, Thompson Falls, even the historically dry Lookout Pass.
"That whole area got a lot of rain, and a lot of places had over an inch," Kitsmiller says.
We're not out of the woods yet. We get back into a dry spell, we get back into where we have winds and lighting - this is still shaping up to be an above-average year in the Missoula area.
All that rain helped mitigate the fire danger in places where it fell. Kitsmiller says the larger forest fuels are still pretty dry, but moisture-levels spiked in grasses and vegetation.
"Usually when we get something like an inch of rain, that can put us back another two weeks easily for any big fires."
Kitsmiller says this past weekend's cooler - and in many cases, wet - weather may stick around for a while.
"We've transitioned into a little bit of a pattern change from the really hot ridge that we had and now we're more active; different weather systems, cooler pattern. It looks like that will probably hold through July. It's pretty good, isn't it?"
Still, summer is far from over and our forests are very dry.
Fire officials have lowered Missoula County's fire-danger rating from "Extreme" to "Very High". However, Stage One fire restrictions remain in effect.
"We're not out of the woods yet. We get back into a dry spell, we get back into where we have winds and lighting - this is still shaping up to be an above average year in the Missoula area," says Chris Johnson of the Northern Rockies Coordinating Group.
Firefighters responded to over a dozen human-caused fires this past weekend. Most of them were started by abandoned campfires that weren't fully extinguished and cold to the touch. Other causes included haying activity and people burning debris without a valid permit. Those permits have been suspended for over a month due to the extreme fire danger.
The Weather Service says northwest Montana received very little, if any, rain.