Wildfires cause smoky skies in Montana
By Tyler Allen, ExploreBigSky.com Staff Writer
As of press time, fires were burning across the northern Rockies, bringing smoky skies to southwest Montana.
The six Rosebud Complex fires had burned 174,000 acres south of Miles City by Aug. 8. The fire was due to “record low levels of fuel moisture, relative humidity in the single digits, and 30 – 40 mph gusts [of wind],” according to Jack Connor, the information officer working on the fire. The fire has burned grass primarily, and last year’s heavy rains have resulted in a very thick fuel load this year.
Several small fires have been active in Yellowstone National Park this season, including the 25-acre Dewdrop Fire, which was started by lightning on July 27. This fire resulted in a number of trail closures but was allowed to burn since it wasn’t viewed as a potential threat to people, property or buildings.
“We look at each fire individually and re-visit the management strategy [as it burns],” said park spokesman Al Nash. “We evaluate potential threat to people, property, and buildings; current and forecast weather conditions; and future and current availability of firefighting resources,” when deciding whether to suppress a fire in the park, he said. A human-caused fire will always be suppressed.
In the Gallatin and Custer national forests, fire fighters have been responding almost daily to initial attack fires, said Marna Daley. Initial attack fires are fires are those that can generally be contained by the first team dispatched.
“We do have the ability to let fire play a natural role in the ecosystem, but given the conditions we haven’t had the opportunity to let fire benefit resources because of the threat to private property,” Daley said. The fire danger remains “very high” in Yellowstone and Gallatin and Custer National Forests. Stage I fire restrictions are in effect for the Gallatin National Forest, while Stage II fire restrictions in the Custer National Forest prohibit building any fire at all.
A 35,000-acre fire outside of Stanley, Idaho has also contributed to the haze over Montana, as the prevailing southwest winds often blow smoke from that blaze in this direction.