Monday, December 06, 2021

There's always a wild card with fire seasons

| October 24, 2021 12:00 AM

Wildfire season is over!

Or is it?

I think some folks may have believed it to be over before last Monday’s Patrick Creek Fire popped up south of Kalispell. There are other fires still burning in Montana, but for the most part, our northwest region is just about of the woods.

For those who forgot how quickly conditions can become favorable for a fire to spread quickly, the Patrick Creek blaze was, hopefully, a good reminder.

Here in Northwest Montana, it was a mercifully short and generally mild fire season. Sure, smoke from fires west of here had an impact on us, but that’s a reality that’s not going to change any time soon, if ever.

Part of my recollections from fire season and its associated predictions the previous winter do make me chuckle a bit.

There were articles in the media that expressed concern over the lack of snowpack and how it may affect the fire season.

Snowpack means a great deal in terms of the water we use, but I’m not convinced it plays a large role in the length or severity of fire season.

Certainly a winter with little snow or an early summer can create conditions favorable for fires.

I even recall one Associated Press article with a headline that basically said “Fire experts refuse to predict the severity of fire season.”

Well, no kidding!

Predict fire season? There are so many factors and variables that anyone who tries to predict it should be considered with much suspicion.

Who knows when some unattentive camper will neglect to completely extinguish a fire? Or when and where a band of dry lightning will start a fire?

But here, despite living in a semi-arid region, we are blessed with typically enough rain and snow through June to keep the season from beginning early, although there were some significant fires burning in the region in early July. A nasty band of thunderstorms scattered across Northwest Montana started dozens of fires.

They alarmed fire managers who worried how the rest of the season would develop. With wildland firefighters in short supply and fires burning all over the West, their concerns were valid. Weather forecasters also predicted

the Thorne Creek Fire, burning just north of Thompson Falls, was the biggest in Northwest Montana. It topped 39,000 acres.

But in the back of my mind, something my hunting partner, who just happens to be a retired forester, said kept ringing in my ears.

“The rain, or lack of it, in August will generally determine how long the fire season will last and the intensity of fire that will occur,” Paul said.

Never were truer words spoken.

Rain showed up in the middle of August and in amounts sufficient to provide a healthy assist to beleaguered firefighters.

While weather forecasters had an idea of what conditions may be like in August and September, their predictions beyond two or three days are generally just educated guesses.

Hopefully the rain and snow they called for this weekend and next will truly mean the end of fire season.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or