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Fire managers optimistic about current conditions

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | July 15, 2022 7:00 AM

Lincoln County fire and emergency management officials are optimistic about current wildfire conditions.

That was the general feeling among those who attended the county Emergency Management Agency Monday evening.

Kootenai National Forest Fire Management Officer Dan Rose said it’s looking like a normal fire season at this point.

“We feel we’re in a good spot right now,” Rose said. “It’s been a really slow start to fire season and getting good moisture through the first week in July is a big reason why.”

This year is in direct contrast to 2021 when spring conditions in the county and region were very dry.

“At this time last year, the preparedness level was at 5 and in the region we were at 4,” Rose said.

The National Multi-Agency Coordination Group (NMAC), composed of wildland fire representatives from each wildland fire agency based at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, establishes Preparedness Levels throughout the calendar year to ensure suppression resource availability for emerging incidents across the country.

Preparedness Levels are dictated by fuel and weather conditions, fire activity, and fire suppression resource availability throughout the country.

Rose said while things look good now, they could change in a hurry depending on heat, humidity levels and rain.

“If we get moisture every 10 days, we’ll be in good shape,” Rose said.

The region did receive rain on Sunday, July 10, and Wednesday, July 13.

Lincoln County Forester Jennifer Nelson said while conditions are very good at this time, "We can't get complacent because conditions can change rapidly if it stops raining."

The continuation of a wet summer would be a relief for people living in a region that has endured wildfire smoke from local events as well as in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington for several recent summers.

Lincoln County’s two largest wildfires in 2021 were the Burnt Peak Fire and the South Yaak Fire. Burnt Peak was discovered on July 7 after a massive band of thunderstorms loaded with lightning enveloped western Montana not long after the July 4 holiday last year.

The South Yaak Fire, which was discovered on July 13, was also caused by lightning from a different weather system.

South Yaak burned about 13,000 acres while Burnt Peak scorched a little more than 3,000 acres.

The La Niña weather system has contributed to a wetter than normal spring and early summer and the good news is that forecasters say the system has a 61% chance of continuing through the summer.

According to climate.gov, it would be a third-year La Niña, which is unusual considering only two have occurred since 1950.

There are some large fires burning in the West, but none in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Wyoming’s largest fire, according to InciWeb, the interagency all-risk incident information management system, is the Monday Creek Fire which has burned more than 700 acres in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Utah’s largest is the Jacob City Fire, burning east of Salt Lake City. The human-caused fire has burned about 4,000 acres.

California’s biggest fire is the Washburn Fire, located in Yosemite National Park. It was reported on July 7 and has consumed about 3,300 acres.

Rose said local firefighters are in Utah and Alaska, but that the situation is in good shape overall.

County Emergency Management Director Thomas Lane said members of the county Fire Co-Op have been able to get some good training sessions completed.

One included an engine academy at Swan Lake in Flathead County.