Bitterroot fire danger high, Pinesdale bans open burning


PINESDALE, Mont. - Hot, dry conditions, plus threats of thunder and lightning, are leaving their stamp on the Bitterroot National Forest.

The Forest Service moved fire danger levels from moderate to high. Scientists said it is fairly typical for this time of year.

Up Blodgett Canyon, west of Hamilton, we saw lots of green, but plenty of dry landscape too.

To keep you updated on the latest conditions, NBC Montana has been attending fire condition briefings every Monday.

"We need to be very careful with fire and things starting to take off more rapidly, and can easily catch a person off guard," said Mark Wilson, from the Bitterroot National Forest Service.

Wilson said so far it is shaping up to be an average to slightly above average fire year. There were three human-caused fires on the Bitterroot last week.

The county has not enacted a ban on open burning yet, although that could happen in coming weeks. But one Bitterroot town has already taken that step.

The message is loud and clear in Pinedsale. No open burning.

Lora Siphakis works at the Post Office. She has four youngsters and thinks the ban is fine.

"We have little kids," said Sophakis, "we want to make sure they're safe."

Lora remembers the fires of 2000, when the mountains morphed into a furnace, and Pinesdale was evacuated.

Fire Chief Weston Jessop was only 15, but he will never forget the sound of that fire.

"Like a freight train," he said.

Jessop banned open burning in city limits.

Heavy fuels are dry enough, said the chief, "where any little spark can cause a disaster."

Jessop gave us a ride above the town, pointing out houses along the way, that were threatened by fire 14 years ago. On the mountain, we find uncountable snags from the fire, still standing. There isn't the shade there used to be.

"It doesn't have the large vegetation," said Jessop, "to seclude the sun from it."

We find an old campfire. Jessop doesn't like the looks of it at all, pointing out the dry grass around it that could take off with just the smallest spark.