MISSOULA, Mont. - It's never a question of if western Montana has a fire season -- it's when.
Flipping the calendar to July, the weather pattern over the Northern Rockies took a turn for the toasty. With another week of hot, dry and windy weather ahead, there appears to be no let-up until at least halfway through the month.
Once again, the hottest region is west-central Montana and, more specifically, the Missoula area. Our First Alert forecast calls for more 90-degree temperatures through the first full week in July.
The average high for the first 14 days would be around 92 degrees around Missoula. In 2013, the average high was 90.5 degrees from July 1 to July 14.
It's time for brush and trees to dry out, and increase the fire danger.
On July 14, 2013, after two weeks of hot weather, the West Mullan Fire exploded to life above the town of Superior. It would burn over 6,000 acres. Two days later, July 16, the Gold Pan and Moose Meadow fires ignited. Combined, they burned more than 46,000 acres.
So what is the difference between 2013 and 2014? Even though rainfall in west-central Montana was nothing to write home about, it was more than in 2013. A heavy snowpack helped keep plants moist during times of little rain.
Fire danger in the Lolo National Forest, where the West Mullan Fire started, is Moderate. In 2013, the fire danger was already at High. The extra moisture won't last however, certainly not into the prime fire month of August.
Officials from the Lolo National Forest report that of the 23 fires in the forest so far this year, all but three are caused by humans. Across the state, small fires have burned just over 4,000 acres.