Stage II fire restrictions now in effect
A lack of resources and very dry conditions prompted all of Stillwater County to enter Stage II fire restrictions, effective at 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning.
County Fire Warden Carol Arkell said this is the first time since 2012 that the county has implemented Stage II restrictions.
There have not been many man-caused fires recently, and the hope is to prevent any such fires from sparking, said Arkell
Both the county commissioners and the Columbus city council voted to enter Stage II restrictions on Tuesday. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is also moving to Stage II restrictions.
This means that the entire county – including each fishing access and the city of Columbus – must follow Stage II restriction guidelines.
Under Stage II restrictions, campfires, fireworks, smoking (except within an enclosed vehicle or building or in an area at least three feet in diameter that is cleared of all flammable materials), and operating motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails is prohibited. Using explosives, welding or operating a torch with an open flame, and operating an internal combustion engine is prohibited from 1 p.m. until 1 a.m.
Stage II restrictions include an exemption for agricultural harvesting and all off-road activities associated with the agricultural operations. A one-hour patrol is required following any activities to monitor the area and ensure no sparked have been caused by any equipment. Stoves that can be turned on and off are also exempt from the restrictions.
Anyone found to be violating the restrictions could be fined up to $5,000 individually or $10,000 for an organization, face up to six months of jail time, and will be held liable for all costs associated if a fire is started.
For an entire list of restrictions and exemptions, see below.
BRUTAL FIRE SEASON
Near-record temperatures, wind, low relative humidity and below-normal precipitation have created fire danger levels to “high” and “extreme” across much of the state, particularly in western Montana.
As of Wednesday, 21 western Montana towns had air quality ratings of unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The smoke from large fires in those areas have blanketed the state.
Last Sunday, the air quality in the Billings area was rated as unhealthy from noon until 4 p.m. due to drifting smoke.
There are currently 44 active fires burning in the state, with an estimated half-million acres of land lost so far.
More tragically, two firefighters have also been killed. Brent M. Witham, a 29-year-old from Mentone, Calif., and Trenton Johnson, 19, who was killed while fighting the Florence Fire.