With the hot temperatures this week and a dry, windy weekend, fire officials are warning outdoor recreationists to be extra careful with fires, especially campfires.

Chris Johnson is Fire Prevention Specialist with the Missoula County Fire Protection Association, who said the fine fuels in western Montana are drying out rapidly.

“We are in high fire danger,” said Johnson. “We went there on Monday, and that’s really driven by the dryness of fuels in the wildlands out in the forest. Folks will look up and they’ll notice on the hillsides that the cheatgrass has cured pretty early. While we do have green grass on the forest floor, that’s what’s kept around a dozen or so lightning caused fires and about 20 or so human caused fires from spreading.”

Johnson said the added stress of COVID 19 has caused fire officials to plan carefully in the chance that large crews may be needed to fight a wildfire.

“This year we may employ things like multiple fire camps or what we refer to as ‘spiking out’,” he said. “So, if we have a fire up on the mountainside then we may have crews stay up there and we would provide them with food and water and stay closer to the fire’s location. There are a lot tools that are available to us now. You can go a lot of places in the forest where you can get a cell phone signal out, and we’re still well-suited to radio traffic, as well. We essentially will take the same precautions that any group would take while they’re in the forest.”

One very important tip that Johnson wanted to pass on to our listeners and readers of our website, is the proper way to extinguish a campfire, the cause of many wildfires.

“Make sure that campfire is dead out and cold to the touch,” he said. “What folks should do with a campfire before they leave it is they should drown it with water, stir it with a hand tool, and then drown it one more time. Then, just feel over the top of that fire with the back of your hand so there’s no heat coming out of that fire. We just ask the public that they drown, stir and then feel those campfires to make sure they’re dead out before they’re ever left unattended.”