National weather analysts say hot, dry temperatures are contributing to an early fire season in Montana, and this may only be the beginning of a hot, dry and expensive fire season.
More than $11 million dollars. That's what the state of Montana's spent on forest fires so far this year, according to the Northern Rockies Coordination Center. Meteorologists say the real fire season may not have started yet.
“About the third week in July is when we start to see an increase in fire activity, because that's about when the fuels start to dry out pretty good,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Bob Nester.
Nester said parts of the state saw one of the driest Junes in history, and those conditions contributed to an early start for forest fires.
“It was Billings' driest June on record,” Nester said. “They've already had three 100 degree days, which is something that hasn't happened since 1988.”
And the outlook for potential fires isn't much better for the rest of the summer; with an upcoming week of temperatures in the 90's, some even pushing to 100. Nester said parts of the state haven’t seen those extended hot temperatures in years.
“What the higher temperatures in the 90's generally do is they help to increase the rate of drying of the fuels,” said Nester. “We're not quite there yet, but it's only going to be a matter of a couple of weeks with this kind of heat that the fuels will be receptive to any kind of new starts from lightning.”
So it will be the weather, and those quickly drying conditions that have the final say on Montana’s firefighting bill this year.
The state’s biggest fires are already racking up millions of dollars. The tab for the Ash Creek Fire is over $3 million dollars, and the Pony Fire isn’t far behind. Costs for the Bear Trap 2 Fire, which is now contained, topped over $1 million dollars.