Federal officials say one of the worst wildfire seasons in the U.S. is likely to continue scorching western states and blanket large swaths with smoke until cooler weather patterns with rain or snow arrive later in the fall.
Al Nash is the Communications Director for the Montana and North Dakota divisions of the Bureau of Land Management.
He’s afraid that people hanging out on public land this weekend are not going to be as diligent about fire prevention as they normally are.
“We're heading into the Labor Day holiday weekend, and typically, people have their last hurrah of the summer, and they are expecting the weather to change, they’re expecting us to start to get some rain, or some snow on the high country, or as they go out to hunt, to wake up in their hunting camp and seeing frost on the ground — and that’s not going to happen."
Fire prevention messages have been shared for weeks now, but Nash fears people may be tuning those messages out because they’re not used to fire threats so late in the summer.
Ultimately, Nash is worried that this weekend, people are going let their guard down.
He’s afraid of smokers being “careless with their smoking materials,” hobbyists or self-sufficient ranchers wielding chainsaws or oxyacetylene torches “and not paying attention to what they’re up to.”
He imagines campers in the woods building big, beautiful a-frame or log cabin-style campfires, but then he is anxious that they may not "give it the greatest amount of care in dosing it."
Nash explains, "all of these things are threats, and people are usually pretty good about it." But he warns, "we have to be extra vigilant right now, because of the significant drought conditions, and the extreme potential for a new fire.”
Forecasters at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise today released the four-month outlook that predicts September will continue hot and dry with above normal fire potential in Nevada, California, and northwestern states like Montana.
The 10,600 square miles that have burned at this point rank the 2017 wildfire season as the third worst in the last decade.
The center says more than 25,000 firefighters and fire support personnel are spread out across the Western U.S. fighting 56 large uncontained wildfires, 21 of them in Montana.