With hotter and drier conditions and wildfire season ramping up, fire experts are urging caution.
Fire danger is rated as high across Northwest Montana and debris burning is not allowed during fire season July 1–Sept. 30).
While some fires are the result of lightning, many are caused by people and through a variety of different ways.
According to the ‘Keep Montana Green Association,’ the proper disposal of cigarettes, failing to properly extinguish camp fires or leaving them unattended, driving on dry grass, and making sure trailer chains don’t hang too low, are just some of the way wildfires can be prevented.
Dragging chains may throw sparks on to roadsides and may ignite quickly moving grass fires. For campfires, always use water and a tool to extinguish it until it is cold to the touch.
For those operating farm equipment or heavy machinery for work projects, watching for sparks is important.
For those who live in what experts call the wildland-urban interface, that is where people reside in forested areas or near them, there are some simple, but important things that they can do to prevent fires from threatening their properties.
Flathead County Fire Service Area Manager Lincoln Chute said for those living in proximity to forests where wildfires could threaten them, preparation is key.
“Some of the things that need to be done may not be convenient for us, but it’s better than possibly losing your home,” Chute said during a recent fire briefing meeting.
One of the documents that was distributed was a homeowner guide that provided several plans and tips to help protect residences from a wildland fire.
Fire-safety experts break “home ignition zones” into three categories. Zone 1 includes the home and a 5-foot area around it. Zone 2 includes a 5- to 100-foot area around a home and Zone 3 is more than 100 feet from the structure.
It’s a good idea to check the walls, siding and trim for any cracks or gaps that burning embers could get into and start a fire. Checking decks, windows and doors for gaps and removing debris from them is also suggested.
While many people store firewood under decks, experts say a fire there can spread quickly to it and the home. Deck furniture cushions are also a top place for embers to land and catch fire.
Keeping roofs and gutters free of leaves, pine needles and other debris is important, too.
Cracks and gaps in eaves and gables are also places where embers can enter a home. Standard crawl-space vents with one-quarter inch screen should be replaced with one-eighth inch screen.
Fire experts say that if an ember does hit a home and can’t find something to ignite with, there is no threat.
For the second step of the first zone, it’s good to keep material away that can ignite easily. Pavers, rock and gravel are fine to landscape with, but mulch is not. Choosing deciduous plants for landscaping near the home is best because they have a higher moisture content and are less likely to burn.
This zone includes the lawn, which should be irrigated frequently, and trees should be limbed 6 to 8 feet up from the base.
Also, isolated or small groups of trees or shrubs should be more than 30 feet from the home and eliminate as much flammable material from the base of a tree so fire can’t climb.
Propane tanks should be at least 30 feet from the home and should rest on a non-combustible material such as rock. Firewood stacks should also be 30 feet from the home.
The area 100 feet or more from a home is more of a forest health and fuel modification zone with the goal to keep the fire on the ground and not in trees where embers can spread.
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation foresters can help with a management plan.
Also, experts say the house number should be reflective so that first responders can see it in the dark or in smoke.
“Most of the work is inexpensive that most homeowners can do and is affordable,” Chute said.
Other sources of information include www.firewise.org, www.wildlandfiresg.org, www.fireadapted.org and www.disastersafety.org/wildfire.