Persistent hot and dry weather will be joined by isolated thunderstorms this week as the concern for wildfire in Northwest Montana continues to grow by the day.
As wildfires rage across the region, fire restrictions have been put in place across much of the Flathead Valley. Stage II restrictions were put in place on F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. property on Aug. 7. Columbia Falls enacted Stage II restrictions last week, and Whitefish announced that it would likely do the same in the coming days.
Stage II restrictions mean people are prohibited from using motorized vehicles on or off road; operating any internal combustion engines during certain hours; having a fire of any kind, smoking or using fireworks.
Firefighters have responded to dozens of starts in recent weeks, according to the Flathead County Office of Emergency Management. In the first week of August, firefighters doused nine wildland fires and responded to nearly two-dozen illegal burns. During the month of July, firefighters were dispatched to 241 different fires, most of which were human caused.
Smoke is also blanketing the valley as fires burn north and south of the Flathead Valley. A number of large fires are burning near Seeley Lake and in British Columbia, which is experiencing its worst fire season since 1958. The smoke has prompted air quality warnings in recent days.
Bruce Bauck, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Missoula, said hot and dry temperatures are expected to last well into next week. Isolated thunderstorms are also expected to bring lightning that could spark additional fires. Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager Lincoln Chute said dry lightning hasn’t been a major issue for this part of the state so far, but that could quickly change.
“If we get any dry lightning this week, that could make things real interesting, real quick,” Chute said.
On the Flathead Indian Reservation, the Liberty Fire southeast of Arlee had burned more than 3,900 acres as of Aug. 7. The Monahan Fire started in a remote section of the Lolo National Forest and has burned north into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, prompting trail closures in Flathead National Forest. Due to the remote location of the blaze, firefighters are mostly monitoring the burn and protecting specific assets.