In a move to mobilize additional resources, Gov. Steve Bullock on Sunday declared a statewide fire emergency, citing extreme conditions that have resulted in 20 active fires burning from one side of the state to the other.
The governor’s declaration, issued through an executive order, enables the state to mobilize new resources, including the Montana National Guard, and tap funding to meet future fire needs.
“Our top priority is ensuring the safety of Montanans, their property and our communities,” Bullock said. “As firefighters battle blazes across the state, Montanans must stay vigilant about active fires in their area, obey any evacuation orders, and prevent any actions that might spark new fires.”
Seven of the state’s active fires are burning on the Lolo and Bitterroot national forests, including the 751-acre Lolo Peak fire south of Missoula, and the 2,700-acre Slidrock and Little Hogback fires near Rock Creek.
Both fires have resulted in widespread trail and road closures and are expected to undergo continued growth as high winds push into western Montana later today.
A public meeting is planned at 7 p.m. tonight at the Lolo Elementary School, just as fire crews brace for red flag conditions. Winds are anticipated to gust up to 30 miles per hour, and humidity could dip to 10 percent as temperatures push into the 90s.
A 20-percent chance of thunderstorms are forecast for Wednesday afternoon, bringing the threat of new fire starts.
The hot, dry conditions have also prompted Bullock to declared a drought disaster in 28 Montana counties and five Indian reservations, all located east of the Continental Divide.
Sen. Jon Tester said the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to send extra staff to the state’s drought-stricken region to help farmers apply for disaster assistance.
“As we face some really tough times in Montana agriculture, these additional staff members will bring some much needed relief to eastern Montana,”said Tester. “If farmers and ranchers are having any trouble accessing USDA resources they should reach out to my office, we’re happy to help.”
In June, University of Montana scientists projected that temperatures across the state will continue to increase as summer rainfall grows scarce – two trends driven by the planet’s shifting climate.
Models suggest temperatures will climb nearly 6 degrees by 2050, accompanied by drier summers and nearly an entire month of additional days over 90 degrees.