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2005 shaping up as driest fire season in decades

| May 6, 2005 12:00 AM

This is shaping up as potentially one of the driest fire seasons in decades, according to statistics from the U.S. Forest Service.

Dan Rose, fire and fuels planner for the Kootenai National Forest, said Wednesday that valley bottom sites across the forest have 52 percent of normal precipitation for this time of year.

In higher elevations, the snow water equivalent is 51 percent of average, he said.

"Compared with 2000, which was a big fire year for us, we have gotten less precipitation across the forest," Rose said. "This is probably among the top two or three driest years in the last 25."

April's meager .20 inches of precipitation in Libby was the lowest amount ever recorded for the month at the Libby Ranger Station. The month's historic average is 1.0 inch.

Bill Moran is a weather watcher who reports information for McGinnis Meadows to the U.S. Weather Service each month. He said the area got 1.33 inches of precipitation in April, but that is still below average.

"It's way dry," Moran said.

He described just how dry by saying McGinnis Creek, where he lives, usually has 18 inches of water this time of year but the current level is just 2 inches.

Rose of the Forest Service noted that an April 30 lightning-strike fire at Thompson Chain of Lakes was extremely early for such events. Despite the situation, however, he cautioned that spring conditions can change in time to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

"April is typically a dry month for us," Rose said. "In Libby, it's the third driest month of the year.

"For us, the telling thing is May and June. If we get normal precipitation then, and average precipitation in July, we tend to have average fire seasons."