Wildfire news, July 4, 2009

First, have a great and safe Independence Day!


A story of success and failure in the war on beetles

There have been a lot of pine beetle stories appearing recently, probably because we’re getting into the western fire season and beetle-killed forests will be a firefighter’s and land owner’s nightmare.

The Missoula Independent has an article about a land owner who tried to do everything right in battling the critters, but their efforts to recruit their neighbors into the effort had limited success.

Thanks Kelly

Panthern Creek fire, North Cascades National Park

National Park Service photo

North Cascades National Park has a 70-acre 123-acre fire that they are unable to staff due to “steep and dangerous terrain”. It started June 28 from lightning and is expected to grow over the weekend with the predicted hot and dry weather. It is burning in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area on the east flank of Ruby Mountain above Panther Creek.

Fire conditions in northern Montana

Daily InterLake.com has an article about the wildfire conditions in northern Montana and the Flathead National Forest.

The Flathead Hot Shots have yet to be shipped off to a wildfire, perhaps an indicator of a quiet summer fire season ahead. Across the West, fire activity has been well below average years, when resources such as Hot Shot crews are sent to one fire after another.

“Based on the fact that we’ve had a lack of fires, there are a lot of resources sitting at home,” said Rick Connell, the new fire management officer on the Flathead National Forest. “The Flathead Hot Shots haven’t left since they came on around May 10.”

Connell added that he’s not aware of any other Hot Shot crews in the Northern Region being sent to fires.

The potential, of course, can change from one week to the next depending on rain, heat, lightning and human-caused fires.

So far this year, the Flathead Valley has gotten 7.16 inches of precipitation, 2.25 inches below the average of 9.41 inches through July 2.

“We’re not having an early fire season, which is good,” Connell said. “We’ll have to see over the next few weeks whether we get precipitation or not.”

Prescribed burns carried out in the late spring showed that heavy fuels “burned pretty well,” Connell said, but light vegetation on the forest is still green. Fuels are drying out at lower elevations in local fire department jurisdictions, which can present a challenge, particularly over the Fourth of July weekend.

“You don’t really know when the human side is going to kick in,” Connell said. “This weekend we are staffing up a bit to help cover things.”

A continued lack of fires in other Western states will ensure plentiful resources available if a fire does break out in Montana, where August is typically the peak month for fire.

But this season will be the first since the air tanker base at Glacier Park International Airport was closed. Connell said he does not believe the closure will have a significant impact, even during a busy fire season.

“Around here, we’ve got a lot of water. A lot of lakes and rivers,” he said. “Helicopters … are probably a lot more efficient for our needs.”

Tankers still will be available from bases in Missoula, Helena and Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, Connell said, noting that the bigger issue regarding tankers is that there are few that remain in service nationally. Other aircraft such as single-engine tankers and ‘super scooper” aircraft are helping to fill in when they are needed.

“There are other tools that are available to us as the situation warrants,” Connell said.

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