MISSOULA — Fire agencies are pleading with people to use every precaution recreating in Montana as wildfires continue to break out.
The Lolo National Forest has already had 50 fires this year, over 40 of those caused by people -- and the statewide numbers show an alarming spike in fires from people's mistakes.
"Across the state, as of today from the beginning of the year, we've had over 900 fires that have burned over 76,000 acres,” Kristin Mortenson with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) noted Friday. “And over 80% of those fires have been human-caused. And that is what we can prevent. Those human-caused fires are 100% preventable."
One big concern is unattended campfires when people are leaving fires burning when they vacate a site, even if they go for a hike. Experts say thoroughly extinguishing a campfire by "dowsing" and stirring the fire repeatedly and making sure it's completely out and "cold to the touch" is imperative. Otherwise, it's a catastrophe in this weather.
"And then when a wind comes, it can stir those embers and that ash, and catch the fine material outside of the campfire ring. And cause a wildfire outside the ring,” said Missoula Rural Fire District (MRFD) Deputy Fire Marshal Dodd McDermott.
"We have a bigger potential for fires to take off and burn rapid and quickly. And so, we want to be extra careful especially around dry grasses any place there's dry brush or anything like that,” added Missoula Fire Department Inspector Jamie Porter.
"There's a new fire restriction website and it's www.mtfireinfo.org. And when you go to this website you will see all the different jurisdictions, different counties across Montana, and where there are restrictions in place,” noted Anna Henderson-Yarrow with the Lolo National Forest. “Because currently in Montana there are seven counties that do have some sort of fire restrictions in place."
Fire prevention experts also remind everyone traveling on public lands to make sure they have tools like shovels, axes, and buckets with them at all times -- even if people are having a fire on their own property.