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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tinder-Dry Forests and Rangelands: Experts Urge Public Caution with Fire

Missoula, Montana, August 26, 2015, 4:30 p.m.— As the fire season churns on throughout the West, a common theme emerges with all reports from the field: the fuels in the forests and rangelands are tinder dry and ready to burn. “We’re seeing vegetation readily responding to ignitions and fires which are highly resistant to control,” said Bob Gilman, Operations Specialist for the Northern Rockies Coordinating Group. “There are currently 24 large fires and multi-fire complexes burning in Montana and Idaho and more than three dozen smaller blazes. The last thing firefighters need is another wildfire – from lightning or humans.”

The conditions bring increased concern about the risk of human-caused fires, with many people planning to head to their favorite forest, campsite or into the backcountry between now and through Labor Day weekend. Early hunting seasons are beginning and hunters are heading to the woods and will likely be counting on small campfires to warm the chill of early mornings.

There are two questions hunters and recreationists need to ask when heading to their favorite outdoor places. First – is the area they’re planning to go closed due to fires? There are many areas within and adjacent to existing wildfires which are closed to public access for their safety, firefighter safety and as a result of fire suppression operations. The second question – provided the area is open for access – is to inquire about existing fire restrictions for the area. Fire restrictions will limit areas where campfires are permitted, where propane stoves can be used, even where ATV’s can travel. The restrictions are imposed with one goal in mind: to reduce human-caused fires.

“Even if there aren’t fire restrictions, everyone needs to carefully consider any activity that has the potential to start a wildfire,” said Deana Harms, Prevention Specialist working with the Northern Rockies Multi-Agency Coordinating Group. “It’s so dry out there that a hot tailpipe or a dragging chain on a towing unit can spark a fire.” Abandoned campfires remain a common cause of wildfires this summer; including illegal campfires which were ignited despite fire restrictions prohibiting them.

The Northern Rockies Geographic Area, which includes the States of Montana, North Dakota, and northern Idaho, Yellowstone National Park, and a small portion of South Dakota, reports 1,837 human-caused fires this year, compared to 1,295 lightning-caused fires. A key difference, however, is the acreage total; human-caused fire account for 86,272 acres, while lightning-caused fires have charred more than three times that amount, with 261,623 acres burned to date. Still, new human-caused fires require firefighting resources: something already stretched thin around the West.

Fire managers and firefighters are asking the public for their help in reducing human-caused fires. Information on current fire restrictions is available online at http://firerestrictions.us/. The site is updated continuously with the current fire restrictions for every area. If, after checking the restrictions website, there are still questions regarding the restrictions, contact your local fire management agency or fire department for additional information.