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Lewis and Clark County moving to Stage II fire restrictions

Rock Creek Fire
Posted at 10:01 AM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 19:35:44-04

HELENA — Lewis and Clark County leaders have announced tighter fire restrictions, as they say dangerous fire conditions appear likely to continue.

“This isn’t going to be over for a long time,” said Rocky Infanger, chief of the Wolf Creek-Craig Fire Service Area. “Some of these fires are not going to be out until snow flies, and that’s the reality of it.”

On Thursday morning, county commissioners unanimously approved Stage II fire restrictions, set to take effect Saturday at 12:01 a.m.

Before the vote, Infanger, representing the county’s Rural Fire Council, presented data showing serious wildfire danger. “Energy Release Components” – an index based on fuel moisture and intended to show how hot a fire could burn – are far higher than normal. All of Montana is currently either abnormally dry or in a drought.

Infanger compared this year to the severe fire season of 2017, but noted they’ve seen far more fire activity already than they did at the same time that year.

“We’re all in it together, but we do need the public’s help,” he said.

The Stage II restrictions will prohibit:

· Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire, including in a developed fire ring – though cooking stoves using liquid petroleum or LPG fuels that can be turned on or off are still allowed.
· Smoking, except inside a vehicle or building, in a developed recreation site or in an area cleared of all flammable materials for at least three feet.
· Any use of fireworks.
· Operating a motorized vehicle off of designated roads or trails.

Additionally, several activities are prohibited from 1 p.m. and 1 a.m., and anyone doing them is required to check the area for an hour afterwards:

· Operating a chainsaw or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine for cutting down trees or gathering firewood.
· Outdoor welding or using an acetylene torch or similar equipment with an open flame.
· Using any explosives.

The restrictions allow some exceptions – including for agricultural and construction work, if operators have fire suppression equipment on hand. You can find a link to the full resolution here.

Infanger said current forecasts predict the weather across Montana could remain warmer and drier than usual for the next three months. He said the storms predicted over the next few days aren’t likely to bring the kind of moisture needed to make a real difference in fire conditions.

“With those storms come other additional problems – winds, lightning and stuff like that,” he said.

In addition to the weather, authorities are concerned about heavy demand on emergency resources. Dozens of fires are burning across Montana, and Infanger said he’d heard crews on several of those fires are finding it hard to get the support they’re asking for.

“There are only so many dozers, crews, helicopters, all of that to go around,” he said. “The good part is these different fires share their resources.”

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said his agency is stretched thin with events like the Last Chance Stampede and Fair, and they are also assisting neighboring counties with evacuations.

“If we get a fire anywhere in our county, we’re going to have to ask for help,” he said.

Dutton also said other agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management, are already implementing Stage II restrictions. He said the rules would be easier to enforce if they were consistent across the area.

“We all are together, and we have the science that backs us up,” he said.

Commissioner Andy Hunthausen said leaders didn’t take the decision to add new restrictions lightly, since they understood it would have an impact on the public. However, he said they felt this was the best step to protect the safety of the county’s emergency responders, as well as public and private property.

“We want to make sure that we’re making responsible decisions, and I think we’re doing that here,” Hunthausen said.

This story has been updated. Original post below:


County commissioners unanimously approved Stage II fire restrictions, set to take effect Saturday, July 31 at 12:01 a.m.

At the Thursday commission meeting, Wolf Creek Fire Chief Rocky Infanger gave an update to the commission about fires in the area and stressed how unfavorable the conditions are in and around the county.

“None of it really bodes very well for us,” said Infanger. “The fuels, what little life is left in them is going out pretty quickly… We are looking at getting some moisture, but not anything that’s going to put an end to this.”

The following acts are prohibited under Stage II fire restrictions:

  • Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire.
  • 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.
  • The use of fireworks.
  • Operating motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails.

There are exceptions included in the resolution, including for some agricultural and commercial uses. You can find a link to the full restrictions here.

Sheriff Leo Dutton, the county’s fire warden, made the official recommendation for the restrictions. In addition to the drought, he said they are concerned about the heavy strain on emergency resources.

“If we get a fire anywhere in our county, we’re going to have to ask for help,” he said.

Commissioner Andy Hunthausen said they knew the restrictions would have an impact on the public, but the decision wasn’t made lightly.