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

Wet Weather May Push Back Prescribed Burns This Fall

Fire Management Officer Keith Van Broke oversees the start of a 2017 prescribed burn to clear dry, dead brush from an area logged three years previous.
Nicky Ouellet
Montana Public Radio

Consistently wet weather this month and the expected snowstorm this weekend are dampening fire managers’ hopes for large prescribed burns in the Flathead Valley this fall. Managers may have to wait until next season for some projects.

The Flathead National Forest announced 13 proposed prescribed burns this year. The agency wants to begin burning five units near Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. Portions of the over 900-acre Belton Prescribed Fire near West Glacier is also planned for this season, but the window to accomplish these large burns is closing and this weekend’s snow storm certainly isn’t helping.

Both of those burns are multi-year projects, but one proposed burn that officials say can’t wait is the 1,100-acre Lindy Ridge Fire north of Seeley Lake.

At a recent press event, Swan Lake District Fire Manager Brent Olson said the burn aims to protect the structures near the Mission Mountain Wilderness.

“Historically, fire has started in the Mission Mountains. Under those more extreme conditions, those years when fuels are exceptionally dry, we’ll get it self-established in a wilderness area and follow the prevailing wind going from west to east, bringing high-intensity fire into the valley bottom where values at risk are located,” Olson says. 

But if fuels in the area don’t dry up in the next couple of weeks, Olson says the forest may not be able to move forward this year all and with recent rains, he says $70,000 worth of federal fundnig for the burn is being diverted to other projects. Those dollars will expire Monday if they're not used. 

“This a project that’s in the Collaborative Forest Restoration Project Area, and this is the last year of 10 years of funding we’ve gotten for this project,” Olson says.

If wet weather continues, Flathead National Forest fire managers may not be able to accomplish any larger burns, but smaller pile and slash burning projects will likely be able to move forward.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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