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Rain holds off restriction upgrade

| August 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Northwest Montana flirted with Stage II fire restrictions but rain late last week prompted officials to call off the upgrade.

Lincoln County was scheduled to go from Stage I to Stage II with its Hoot Owl restrictions as of midnight Sunday, Aug. 14. But the Northern Rockies Coordination Group pulled back from that step one day earlier, although cautioning that the reprieve may be temporary.

"It will not take but one or two days of warmer temperatures and a steady breeze to put us right back where we were one week ago," said Jeremy Pris of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Stage I restrictions, which went into effect here Aug. 4, remain in place. They prohibit most outdoor smoking in national forests as well as campfires away from developed recreation sites.

"It is important to remember that all areas of western Montana have some level of fire restrictions in place," Pris said. "It is also extremely important that everyone realizes that even though the precipitation that was received in some areas is greatly appreciated, it was highly variable, and a much longer duration of rain and cool temperatures is needed to make a significant change to forest fuels."

Meanwhile, the Kootenai Inter-Agency Fire Dispatch Center reported three new fire starts on Sunday. The largest was three-quarters of an acre and all were contained as of Monday afternoon, dispatch center manager Neil Nelson said.

The fires were originally lightning-started, but Friday's rain "made them lay down and then it took a day or two for us to notice the smoke," Nelson said.

He said smoke that has been causing hazy local skies is from fires burning in Alaska.

Final mopping up of the Camp 32 fire near Eureka continued Monday, where management of the fire was turned over to the Rexford Ranger District. One Type II crew consisting of 25 people remained to patrol the fire's perimeter and behind structures, as well as gridding hot spots identified by an infrared camera.

The Camp 32 fire, located in the Pinkham Creek area, covered 896 acres.