Chris Johnson, a fire-prevention specialist with the Lolo National Forest, tells NBC Montana that human-caused fires have become an epidemic in Western Montana this year. Johnson says so far, about 65 fires flared up in the Lolo National Forest, and roughly 40 of them are human caused.
“We've got an epidemic of human caused fires in Western Montana,” said Johnson.
Johnson says the numbers usually run about half and half, so it’s a big increase so far. Johnson’s trying to get the word out, as much of Western Montana is in Stage One restrictions.
“These fires this year are getting to flame lengths of 8- 10 feet in just hip-high grass," said Johnson.
On Wednesday, the Firestone Flats Fire in Arlee had burned more than 1,500 acres. It’s just the latest blaze in the area crews call human caused. It flared up just days after West Mullan fire near Superior, and the Mill Creek Fire near Frenchtown. Investigators don’t have lightning to blame for either blaze.
“If we're getting the human-caused fires and the lightning storms, we're going to be stretched really really thin ,” said Chris Newman, Missoula Rural Deputy Chief Fire Marshall.
Newman says the lightning may even out the ratio a bit, but for the crews responding, fire is fire, no matter how it’s caused. All crews are asking for is residents to do what they can to prevent wildfires, because it only takes on spark.
“Over in Mill Creek last week, someone trying to do the right thing with a lawnmower in tall grass just hit a rock and it was off to the races for 800 acres and nearly 500 people fighting that fire,” said Johnson.