Because of rising temperatures in the past few days, combined with reduced rainfall and vegetation drying out, the Missoula County Fire Protection Association is raising the fire danger to "moderate", effectively immediately.

And with nothing but dry and borderline hot weather in the forecast through at least mid-July it's likely the first step in a summer that's promising to see an escalating fire hazard between now and the end of the month.

Not only does that mean additional precautions for recreational use, but wildland fire managers say all outdoor burning in Missoula County, which includes all categories of fires, closed on Monday.

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Focusing resources on fire season

Fire managers explain that the "moderate" distinction means that fires can "start readily" in open, dry grasslands like we have in our Western Montana valley bottoms, and will spread quickly on windy days. This is the time in fire season when lowland grass and brush fires are usually the biggest hazards.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo
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"It is time to restrict the risk of human cause starts especially as conditions are trending hotter and drier.” -Beau Maciag, Area Assistant Fire Management Officer MT DNRC

The warnings are also directed to get people to keep fire safety uppermost in mind. On average, three out of every four wildfires in Missoula County are human-caused, by things like debris and opening during, abandoned campfires, or ones that escape fire grates, mowing and equipment with hot exhaust parked in tall grass.

The fire danger is also "moderate" on both the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forest Lands. As of Wednesday morning, permitted open burns were still being allowed in Ravalli County.

The extended forecast is for temperatures to be in the mid-80s to low-90s through July 19th. The National Weather Service is tracking the potential for thunderstorms and lightning next week.

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