Saturday, July 02, 2022
72.0°F

Sanders County will implement Stage 2 fire restrictions

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Hagadone News Network | July 13, 2021 12:30 PM

Extreme weather conditions in Northwest Montana have prompted Sanders County officials to order Stage 2 fire restrictions on private lands beginning Saturday.

According to information from the county, the Commissioners are making the order due to very high fire danger and because it has worsened due to the very extreme hot, dry and windy conditions.

In the county, the National Weather Service is forecasting temperatures in the mid 90s through next Monday with south winds at 10 to 15 mph and gusts as high as 25 mph. There is a 10% chance of thunderstorms Saturday, 20% on Sunday and 30% on Monday.

Officials believe the threat of new fire starts that are resistant to control has created a substantial hazard to the county residents.

Authorities said restrictions will remain in place until the Commissioners cancel them. They also reminded people that any violations of the resolution are a misdemeanor and punishable by six months in the Sanders County Jail and/or a fine of $500. For those who start a fire, they may be held liable for all suppression costs and damages.

The restrictions include outdoor fires, smoking, logging operations and driving off trails and roads.

There are exceptions to the order, including using BBQ grills on private property where flammable materials are cleared, mowing lawns which are deep green and irrigated and operating generators with an approved spark arresting device.

Specifically, the following acts or uses are prohibited:

  • Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire;
  • Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials;
  • The following acts are prohibited from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.:

a. Logging operations, fire wood cutting, using explosives and outdoor welding, or operating acetylene or other torches with an open flame, unless in an area at least 10 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

For those engaging in the previously mentioned work activities, a one-hour patrol in the work area is required following the end of all activities.

The fourth restriction includes operating motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails.

Authorities said restrictions will remain in place until the Commissioners cancel them. They also reminded people that any violations of the resolution are a misdemeanor and punishable by six months in the Sanders County Jail and/or a fine of $500. For those who start a fire, they may be held liable for all suppression costs and damages.

There are exceptions to the restrictions and they include the following:

  1. Persons with a written permit that specifically authorizes the otherwise prohibited act;
  2. Persons at their private property can use BBQ grills that have an area that is barren or cleared of all surrounding flammable materials within three feet of the device and have running water to the area;
  3. Mowing laws that are deep green and are irrigated;
  4. Operating generators with an approved spark arresting device with an enclosed vehicle or building or in an area that is barren or cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within three feet of the generator;
  5. Construction sites that are barren or cleared of all flammable materials are not restricted;
  6. Operating motorized vehicles on designated roads and trails;
  7. Emergency repair of public utilities and railroads;
  8. Persons conducting activities in those designated areas where the activity is specifically authorized by written posted notice;
  9. Any federal, state, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.
  10. All land within a city boundary is exempted.
  11. Other exemptions unique to each agency/tribe.

Also, state and federal fire officials held a meeting in Plains Monday evening to update county residents on fire activity and their efforts to control the blazes which are burning in several areas.

According to Dave Olson, the unit manager for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Plains, the 200-acre Henry Creek Fire east of Plains is 30% contained and had no new growth Monday. He said the blaze was human-caused, but it was still being investigated for an exact cause.

“The fire is 7 miles east of Plains and 3 1/2 miles up Henry Creek. It did come within 1/8 mile of a trailer and barn, but we consider it safe now,” Olson said.

Olson was asked if the fire could burn down to Montana 28.

“It’s not anticipated, but it depends on the wind,” he said.

Olson also said 10 more firefighters were joining the 25-man crew fighting the fire on Tuesday. He said two dozers and two tenders were being used. Helicopters and planes had also been used to drop water on the fire.

Another person asked why fire restrictions weren’t going into effect sooner.

County Sheriff Tom Rummel said it was a matter of getting the word out to county residents.

“Social media is nice and we’ll put signs up, but not everyone is on the internet and we need to advertise in the local papers, so that is why it doesn’t begin until Saturday,” Rummel said. “Also, I urge everyone to talk to your neighbors about what they are doing and to avoid any activity that could cause a spark.”

The largest fires burning in the county are Thorne Creek and Winniemuck, located northeast of Thompson Falls. They total a little more than 1,000 acres and are expected to burn together in the next few days.

Because they are burning in steep, rugged terrain in heavy dead, downed fuels in the Cube Iron/Silcox area they pose an extreme risk to firefighters. Fire managers continue to conduct aerial reconnaissance each day in an effort to decide when and where to gain access.

On the Flathead Indian Reservation, the fire danger level has been raised to extreme, but no restrictions have been ordered, other than outdoor burning is not allowed.

Tribal firefighters have brought most of the fires under control, according to information from Tribal spokesman C.T. Camel.

The Little Money2 Fire is a Type 3 incident located 2 miles west of Perma. The fire is currently 159 acres and 35% contained as of Monday night. The fire is burning in steep and rocky terrain. The Painted Rocks (Camas 1300 road), Camas 1000 road and the Camas 2000 roads are closed.

Recent Headlines