HAMILTON, Mont. — Western Montana is walking on tiptoe as the threat of more fire starts escalate.
There's a Red Flag warning for much of western Montana.
Stage 2 fire restrictions are in effect or will be after midnight Friday. Hoot Owl restrictions also go into effect.
In the Bitterroot, Ravalli County Emergency Services Manager Erik Hoover is asking the public for help in trying to prevent human-caused fires.
"We're one spark away from a very bad fire," he said.
The Bitterroot and Missoula saw terrible fires with Roaring Lion two years ago, near Hamilton, and the Lolo Peak Fire, near Lolo, last year.
Hoover said this year we are at or close to the fire conditions we saw last year.
We can't do anything about lightning. But Hoover is urging communities to "come together" to do what they can to prevent human-caused fires on the forest and on the valley floor.
"What that means is to do your part to try to keep them at a minimum," he said, "or avoid them completely." It's basic stuff.
Hoover said we can do a lot to prevent devastating wildfires at the cost of our homes, families and businesses.
Don't mow those dry weeds until conditions improve, he said.
Under Stage 2 restrictions fires of any kind are prohibited. But the emergency services manager said we are still seeing abandoned campfires. He said there have been reports of people throwing cigarette butts out of car windows.
"Please put your cigarette butts out in an ashtray or a non-flammable container," he said. "They do not belong on the ground."
"We're looking at some very critical fire weather, at least through the end of the weekend," he said, "with high temperatures approaching triple digits with low humidity and possible wind and lightning."
He is urging residents and visitors to the valley to be vigilant in keeping communities safe from fire.
In Hamilton many people said they are paying attention to the conditions.
We met Brad Sears at his home in Hamilton, where he had a great deal of firewood he had gathered recently in the woods.
He's been getting wood for the past 45 or 50 years in the Bitterroot. He knows how important safety is. He carries fire extinguishers and checks his trailer tires for solid air pressure. He makes sure that his chains don't cause possible sparks by dragging on the ground.
Also he said, "Drive slow. That's one of the key tickets. You drive slow, and you're not throwing around possible sparks."
But he said he is done gathering firewood for now.
"It's too dangerous," he said. "I'll wait till this hot spell ends. There's plenty of time to get wood yet."
We met Tyler and Trevor Carlson in downtown Hamilton. Both said they are paying close attention to fire restrictions and both support the new rules.
Tyler lives in Lolo. He said last year the Lolo Peak Fire came too close for comfort.
"That one got about 2 miles from our house," he said.
At midnight Friday the Bitterroot National Forest will move the arrow on its fire danger sign from very high to extreme.
For information on fire conditions in your area visit firerestrictions.us