by Gary Noland
August 17, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
Two days after Level IV Fire Restrictions were imposed in our area, Governor Marc Racicot ordered the closure of 10 million acres of public and private forest land, effective last Friday (Aug. 11) at 12:01 a.m.
The closure affects all public lands and waters, and private forested lands in Missoula, Ravali, Mineral, Sanders, Granite, Powell and Deer Lodge counties as well as portions of some counties with boundaries west of the Continental Divide.
Citing the extreme fire danger in most of Montana, Gov. Racicot said:
"No person may enter or be upon any forest land without a written permit except as provided in this Executive Order. Permits may be issued upon a showing of demonstrated need. No permit shall be required of thos persons having an actual residence as a permanent or principal place of abode in the closed forest lands for the sole purpose of ingress and exgree to their actual residence. No permit shall be required of any persons engaged in firefighting, fire prevention, or law enforcement when engaged in official business. All hunting and fishing on state and private forest lands in the areas of dangerous fire hazard are prohibited."
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is the designated agency for the issuance of permits. The Forest Service has closed roads and manned closure barricades at points of entrance into public forested lands, and DNRC is posting signs on their lands reading, "Area Closed, Extreme Fire Hazard. Entry by Permit Only."
Level IV Fire Restrictions prohibiting "open flames" of any kind anywhere on private or public lands remains in effect.
That's it, we're kind of shut down everywhere, except that campgrounds at Seeley Lake, Lake Alva, Placid Lake, and Salmon Lake remain open to the public though Level IV Fire Restrictions apply there alsono campfires, barbecues, propane or gas stoves are allowed.
Mike Ferris, fire information officer on the Monture-Spread Ridge Fires near Ovando, said Tuesday that both fires were active in gusty winds with a lot of smoke coming from unburned islands of fuel within the perimeter of the fires, but there has been some spreading in acreage to the north and east. Both fires cover a total of 17,700 acres with the Monture fire accounting fo the bulk of that. Ferris said total personnel on the fires numbers 161, but that he'd be losing a crew on Wednesday. With five engines, two dozers and three water tenders the prime objective is the initial attack on any new fires that might spot from the main fires. Without the resources to "go after this one," crews are working on a contingency line to the east in case of a wind change which might turn the fire toward Ovando.
Light rain showers last Thursday and Friday did little to change the fire danger.
"The spring rains never arrived in 1910. During July, lightning strikes caused 3,000 fires on the Clearwater and Coeur d'Alene Forests in northern Idaho.
"On August 20 the wind began to blow, and over the next 48 hours 3,000 small fires became one wall of firestorm that moved east into northwestern Montana at incredible speeds. On August 22 the winds changed, and it began to rain. It took a full week of rain to put the fire out, stopped some 60 miles west of Missoula. An area the size of Connecticut, three million acres, was burned. 78 firefighters and seven civilians perished. A plume of smoke rose 40,000 feet and caused five days of darkness clear to the Atlantic Ocean. Streetlights in Buffalo, New York were turned on at noon when the plume of smoke ar rived. 48 hours." (from Roadside History of Montana by Don Spritzer - Mountain Press, Missoula, 1999)
This is what this year 2000 is being compared to. Probably comparing apples and oranges, but inviting of comparison nonetheless.
The lack of strong winds is the only thing saving the Bitterroot these days, and at that it is going to burn until it rains hard for a week or is snuffed by snow.
The right spark at the wrong time in the wrong place with a breeze blowing...
August Singularity happens about the third week of August every year, usually resulting in a dramatic change in the weather. Locally, overnight it has changed from 85 degrees to several inches of snow, massive windstorms have happened as have severe thunderstorms and torrential rains. And in some years one day is the same as the previous one.