Big Sky Roundup

Gov’s briefing: Fires slowing down, for now

By: - September 2, 2021 5:37 pm

A plane from Billings drops fire retardant in Rosebud County on Aug. 12, 2021 [Photo courtesy of Rosebud County Sheriffs Office]

Changing weather patterns have begun to slow down the ferocious pace of wildfires, though Montana isn’t quite out of the (rather dry) woods yet.

Gov. Greg Gianforte met with state fire officials for an update this Tuesday. There are 60 active fires in the state currently, and 18 are considered large incidents. The state saw more than 70 new fire starts between the governor’s previous briefing the prior week. But overall growth has been slow: 827,000 acres have burned in the state this year, up only 2,000 acres from the week before. 50 primary structures have been lost, meaning no residences have burned in the last week.

Cooler temperatures and precipitation have also taken some pressure off the state fire fund. The state has spent $48.5 million out of the fire suppression fund since the beginning of the fiscal year in July, with only $3.5 million coming in the last week.

The top priority fire is the long-burning Woods Creek Fire in the Lewis and Clark National Forest near Meagher and Broadwater counties. Thunderstorms ignited the blaze back in July; it’s grown to 55,000 acres but firefighters now have it around 90% contained.

The National Interagency Fire Center said in its August report that much of the state will continue to have an above-normal potential for significant fire throughout September, and into October for parts of central and eastern Montana. But short-term conditions have settled into something resembling normalcy, for the time being.

Cool temps will hold for the remainder of the week, according to the National Weather Service in Great Falls, though a high-pressure ridge and some warn, dryer temperatures will return next week. However, this weather system pales in comparison to some of the high-pressure ridges that whipped up fire activity earlier in the summer.

“Fuels are beginning to dry out once again, but recent overnight low temperatures in the 20s/30s for some mountain ranges is somewhat mitigating the drying process,” according to the NWS. “This situation will continue to be monitored for the potential need of fire weather headlines, especially Sunday and Monday.”

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.