Heat Wave to Increase Fire Activity - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Heat Wave to Increase Fire Activity

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MISSOULA -

U.S. Forest Service meteorologists said this historic heat wave will increase fire activity in several areas of the Northern Rockies region.

Meteorologist Bryan Henry works for the Northern Rockies Coordination Center -- or the NRCC -- which organizes resources for wildfire control.

Henry said the upcoming heat wave is historic because it comes before the end of July, when fire season typically begins.

"A lot of areas across western Montana and northern Idaho are well above normal precipitation over the past month, but it evaporates very quickly, especially when it's 100 degrees outside and the humidities are very low," Henry said.

Henry said thin vegetation like grass can dry out in only about 10 hours in triple digit temperatures.

"The grasses that are out there, we see that they're green right now, are probably going to be very brown by this time next week," Henry said.

The NRCC measures vegetation moisture throughout the region, and Henry said much of the foliage is only about 4% from being dry enough to become a fire hazard.

Henry said, "This heat wave is significant enough and long enough in duration, that it's going to have an impact on all the fuels across the spectrum."

He said thunder and lightning storms often follow heat waves.

These storms are hazardous, because Montana sees storms traveling from the desert southwest.

"So, by the time those storms get here, there's not much moisture underneath them, so we end up just getting dry lightning, or lightning without much precipitation," Henry said.

Henry said this year's fire danger zone encompasses much of southwest Montana near Wisdom, where drought has persisted through the spring.

He added, "Now, initially all the firefighters and the smoke jumpers will be able to jump on these fires and put them out very effectively, before they can get too big."

NRCC officials said last year's heat waves in central and eastern Montana, led to the worst wildfire in Montana history -- the Ash Creek fire that burned roughly 500,000 acres.

"Be very careful this Fourth of July, especially, due to the timing of the heat wave," he advised.

Forest Service officials said most of the Northern Rockies region will see a normal fire season, but next week's heat wave could bring increased fire activity as soon as this weekend.

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