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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Despite Dry Conditions, Montana Fire Season Not Expected To Worsen

Montana's Current Water Supply and Moisture Conditions by County
Montana DNRC
Montana's Current Water Supply and Moisture Conditions by County

Montana’s fire season has been ‘pretty benign’ so far and it’s not expected to get much worse. That’s how Harold Gemmell characterized it today to the Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee.

"It’s been pretty slow for us, which is fine," said Gemmell, direct fire coordinator for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. "We don’t mind that. We’ve been engaging in a lot of initial attack throughout the state. With the exception of the Observation Fire, Roaring Lion and the Copper King fire on the west side of the state, really most everything has been on the east side."

That's Montana’s hot, dry June coming back to haunt us, says Natural Resources Conservation Service Water Supply Specialist Lucas Zukiewicz:

"June’s typically one of our biggest (precipitation) months east of the Divide. We saw well below average precipitation almost statewide for June. That’s had a big impact on our stream flows and our current conditions in terms of relative wetness in the mountains."

Parts of northeast Montana received above-average rain this summer. Even the parched Front Range received a few showers earlier this month. But Zukiewicz says most of the state is very dry.

"Last summer was extremely dry. This winter’s snowpack in some basins was pretty close to normal. We moved that (snowpack) early and we’ve seen some pretty rapid drying of our soils, especially when we look at that area around Yellowstone National Park, even in the northwest basins. In the Bitterroot we’re seeing extremely dry soil moisture conditions."

Montana’s fire potential will remain high for the next several weeks, but DNRC's Gemmell adds:

"We’re really below average as far as number of fires and for the number of acreage burned for this time of year. I imagine that’s probably going to carry on for the rest of this season. It might be an extended season, but right now we’re looking pretty good."

Fire officials today credited local, state and federal initial attack teams for extinguishing a lot of smaller fires this summer before they grew into major incidents.

Weather experts say most of Montana has a 40-percent chance of above-average precipitation this winter.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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