Northwest Montana to Enter Stage I Fire Restrictions

Beginning Saturday, campfires will be prohibited across the Flathead and Kootenai national forests, Glacier National Park and most other public lands in a three-county region

By Beacon Staff
Flames from the Colt Fire torch trees on July 20, 2023. Courtesy photo

In an ongoing effort to reduce the risk of wildland fire, interagency fire managers have announced they are implementing Stage I fire restrictions across northwest Montana starting this weekend.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 29, the first category of fire restrictions will take effect across the Flathead National Forest, the Kootenai National Forest and Glacier National Park; on public parcels managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation – Northwestern Land Office and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 1; and throughout Flathead, Lincoln and Sanders counties. 

In rolling out the fire restrictions, the state, federal and local agencies outlined their goal of reducing fire risk and preventing wildfires “during periods of high to extreme danger by decreasing potential sources of ignition.”

“Each year, 70% to 80% of wildfires are human-caused and this summer the trend has continued,” according to a Wednesday afternoon release from the Northern Rockies Coordination Group. “Northwest Montana is currently experiencing drought conditions including extremely dry forest fuels; forecasts of temperatures above normal accompanied by low humidity, wind, and minimal precipitation; and competition for firefighting resources, as fires continue to burn across the state and the West.”

Among the federal, state and private jurisdictions under Stage I restrictions are:

·         Flathead National Forest, including Hungry Horse, Glacier View, Swan Lake, Spotted Bear and Tally Ranger Districts to include the Great Bear Wilderness, Mission Mountain Wilderness, and the Flathead National Forest portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness 

·         Kootenai National Forest, including Rexford, Fortine, Three Rivers, Libby and Cabinet Ranger Districts  

·         Glacier National Park

·         US Fish and Wildlife Service, including Lost Trail and Swan River National Wildlife Refuge

·         Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, including the Kalispell, Libby, Stillwater and Plains Units. State land and private classified forested lands

·         Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Region 1 within Flathead County, Lincoln County, Sanders County

·         Flathead County – Stage I fire restrictions

·         Lincoln County – Stage I fire restrictions

·         Sanders County – Stage I fire restrictions

·         Green Diamond – not allowing campfires on their private timberlands

·         Flathead Ridge Ranch – prohibiting campfires on their lands

·         Southern Pine Plantation of Montana – Industrial timberlands in Lincoln, Sanders, and Flathead counties are not allowing campfires

·         Stimson Private Timber Company – not allowing campfires on their lands

·         Stoltze Timber Company – not allowing campfires on their lands

Stage I Fire Restrictions prohibit building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire, and no exceptions are being made by any agency in northwest Montana this year. Cooking on a liquid petroleum gas or propane stove that can be turned on and off is allowed.

The restrictions also prohibit smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials. However, all land within a city boundary is exempted unless the local municipalities enact their own set of restrictions.

Anyone caught violating the restrictions or closures could be fined up to $5,000 individually or $10,000 for an organization and imprisoned up to 6 months. Anyone found responsible for starting a wildland fire can be held liable for all suppression costs and damages.

On the 2.3-million-acre Flathead National Forest, Public Affairs Officer Kira Powell said firefighters have responded to 10 fires in July, all less than 5 acres in size. In addition to a fire start on Doris Mountain in the Hungry Horse Ranger District, two of the recent fire starts occurred on the Tally Lake Ranger District, which crews have already contained, while a third near Olney and a fourth near Griffin Creek west of Kalispell similarly benefitted from an early and aggressive response, Powell said.

Fire managers determined three fires were human-caused, five were natural while the causes of two other fires remain undetermined. Powell emphasized that the Flathead National Forest has bumped its fire danger to “very high” due to the warming temperatures and low humidity in the valley. 

For current wildfire and restrictions information visit: https://www.mtfireinfo.org/

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