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Stage I restrictions start Aug. 4

| August 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Most outdoor smoking as well as campfires away from developed recreation sites will be prohibited throughout the Kootenai National Forest starting at midnight Wednesday because of very high fire danger.

The Kootenai joins other jurisdictions in northwest Montana under Stage I fire restrictions. The decision was made by wildland suppression agencies from Kootenai National Forest; Flathead National Forest; the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation; Lincoln County; Sanders County; Lake County; Flathead County; Region 1 of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Smoking will be allowed inside buildings or vehicles, at developed recreation sites, or while a person is stopped in an area cleared of all flammable materials for at least three feet in diameter.

Campfires are prohibited in the backcountry, but are allowed in developed or improved recreation sites in the metal or concrete fire rings provided there. Backpacker-type camp stoves may be used in all areas.

"They're not heavy-duty restrictions," said Janette Turk, fire prevention officer for the Kootenai.

She said it's not unusual for Stage 1 to be reached.

"It's pretty normal, although maybe a little earlier than some seasons,"

Turk said. "It's not going to take much more to get into extreme conditions, and then they'll get to Stage II which is more restrictive."

Officials from fire suppression agencies throughout northwest Montana hold a weekly conference call during fire season to discuss conditions. The next call will be held Tuesday, Aug. 10. Turk said that's the earliest Stage II might be imposed.

If that happens, several activities will be prohibited from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. Those include chain saw use, blasting, skidding, bucking or welding.

"There won't be a lot of four-wheeling," Turk said.

She said fuels across the Kootenai are at high level, particularly grasses.

On the Libby Ranger District, developed and approved recreation sites where fires are allowed in metal or concrete fire rings include campgrounds at Howard Lake, Lake Creek, Loon Lake, McGregor Lake, Sylvan Lake along with McGillivray and Timberlane campgrounds.

Fires also will be allowed in metal or concrete facilities at Blackwell Flats and Dunn Creek, both of which are improved recreation sites managed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

The restrictions apply to lands outside of city limits, regardless of ownership. They don't apply to Glacier National Park or the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, which includes the Bob Marshall and Great Bear wilderness areas.

Restrictions will stay in effect until there is "significant long-term change in fire danger," according to Jeremy Pris, prevention specialist for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

"We realize people don't intend to ignite fires when camping out, but with the rising fire danger taking some actions to minimize the number of fire starts with Stage I fire restrictions will help us all out," he said in a press release.

"Over the last several weeks there has been a rash of person-caused wildland fires, preventable fires at that, so acting now before we have a serious problem is a good move."

Pris said campfires and fireworks have been the leading cause of fires by human beings. He reminded people that possession and use of fireworks on national forest lands is always prohibited.

"As the heat of summer continues to dry out the grasslands and forest, the chances of one of these preventable fires escaping control increases," he said. "Upon escape, a simple campfire can become a damaging wildfire."