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

Could This Weekend's Wet Weather End Montana's Fire Season?

More wet weather is on the way to western Montana.
National Weather Service Missoula
More wet weather is on the way to western Montana.

Rainy and cool weather is pushing its way across the state of Montana and the National Weather Service says it's going to stick around for a while. Is the wildfire season-ending event we've long hoped for?

National Weather Service meteorologist Lance Vandenboogart says the cold front that's bringing this early taste of autumn will stay with us through the weekend.

"Maybe not season ending for everywhere, but this is definitely putting a big damper on a lot of the fires."

It may also be followed by more sporadic rain through early next week.

"Here in Missoula we could see over an inch, that's definitely a possibility," says Vandenboogart. "The mountains could have more than that and it looks pretty widespread. The Libby, Troy, Eureka areas look like they're not going to get quite as much, but they do look like they're going to get some rain later this weekend."

What's more, there've already been reports of a rain/snow mix in Glacier National Park at elevations above 8,500 feet. This change in weather isn't limited to western Montana. The Weather Service says this cold front could drop a couple of inches of rain in some areas east of the divide .

The Northern Rockies Coordinating Group is activated during times of high fire-danger. It includes representatives of various state and federal fire and law enforcement agencies. Spokeswoman Paula Short says the group's certainly keeping a close eye on this weather.

"While we are getting heavy or moderate rains in some areas, it's been sort of spotty in other areas around the state and around the northern rockies," says Short. "We're stopping short of saying the is the end [of fire season], particularly if we do get a warm up after this cold-front moves through, if we do get a warm up and another drying period, we certainly could see some more activity."

While fire experts are erring on the side of caution, there's no denying that days are getting shorter and humidity levels are rising.

"In fact I know a few folks around Montana who've had to cover the garden so far with light, or even heavy frost in some areas," says Short. "Absolutely, time is on our side as we wind down towards the end of the field season, but I know many a seasoned firefighter who'll tell you that they've been on fire assignments as late as Columbus Day and into early November."

While we're not seeing new wildfires or getting reports of the rapid fire growth that were so common during the hotter and drier days, Short says there's still plenty of existing fire incidents yet to deal with.

"There's a lot of equipment out on the landscape; pumps, hoses and a lot of engines," Short says. "There's a lot of people assigned out there. In fact, there's about 6,000 in the northern rockies, so there's still a lot of work to do with buttoning up what we've got out there already."

Despite the cool, wet weather many areas in western Montana remain in those Stage 1 or Stage 2 fire restrictions. That means depending on your location, campfires will either still not be allowed at all or only in designated spaces.

"If we continue to have cool weather we may see them rescinding or stepping down," says Short. "I know the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were in Stage 2 restrictions. they are planning to step down to Stage 1 restrictions on Friday. It's something that we're looking at and keeping track of on a continual basis. Most of the areas are going to go staus quo for the Labor Day weekend. Just be careful out there and keep those campfires in the appropriate places."

Temperatures for much of Montana could only reach the 50s and 60s this weekend. Highs normally range from the low to high 70s this time of year.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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