According to the Northern Rockies Coordination Center, the interagency resource for wildland fires in our region, there were at least 70 new wildfire starts this weekend with most happening in Montana and Idaho.
While this fire season has been far less severe than last year's, last weekend was an indication things could heat up quickly. Lightning was mainly responsible for more than 70 new fires across the Northern Rockies. More thunderstorms this week will likely spark numerous new fires, although precipitation will be heavy at times and widespread for days.
Montana and the Northern Rockies are currently in Preparedness Level 3. This stage typically involves two or more geographic areas requiring significant amounts of wildland fire suppression resources from other areas. In the last few weeks, firefighters have been very busy as activity has increased across the state. The largest fire in the state so far this year is the Elmo Fire west of Flathead Lake which burned over 21,300 acres. For the season, nearly 70,000 acres have burned in the treasure state.
More than half of Montana is in drought, with the worst being the Golden Triangle area of north central Montana. Since the early July rain, much of summer has been hot and dry. Areas along and west of the Continental Divide are likely to have above-normal significant fire potential into September. Southwest Montana has been especially hot and dry, making that location the hot spot for late fire season.
Precipitation this week will help, keeping fuel moisture from rapid drying and live fuels free of drought stress, but this season has a long way to go.