DNRC says humans cause almost half of Montana wildfiresSource: NBC Montana
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MISSOULA, Mont. – Lightning sparked several fires over the weekend, but fire officials say people can cause more than their fair share of wildfires.
The Forest Service says up to half of all wildfires are human caused in Montana, and if the public can eliminate human-caused fires it could save money, resources and lives.
Fire officials with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation say campfires are one of the biggest culprits of human-caused wildfires.
“Please, we’re asking you as fire officials, it really helps us out when we’re trying to take care of (all) these lightning ignitions,” said DNRC spokesman Jordan Koppen.
Koppen says there are three steps to properly put out a campfire. First, he says douse a campfire completely with water making sure there is no remaining smoke or steam. Koppen says steam indicates the coals are still hot, and a gust of wind could ignite a fire. Second, Koppen says to mix around the coals to make sure the water is evenly dispersed. Third, Koppen says campers should be able to hold the back of their hand over a fire and not feel any heat.
Koppen says dragging trailer chains are one of the most overlooked fire starters.
“You’d be surprised with how many issues we have with dragging trailer chains. I mean, you hear them going down that road all the time,” Koppen added. “We’re talking RVs, jet skis, any kind of boats. (It) can be a very bad situation. If you think about it, we have friction against the gravel and the chains. With that friction, that chain can get red hot. Eventually it can just bust.”
Koppen says flying sparks can ignite brush on the side of the road and start a fire.
Koppen says there are a few ways to fix chains. First, he says people can wind or twist the chains to lift them off the ground, or cross them over each other a few times before hooking them on.
Koppen says other fire starters include parking cars in tall grasses where fuels can leak and start a blaze. He also encourages caution when mowing lawns, because a blade striking a rock could ignite a fire.
Fire prevention technician Anna Henderson says it can be a process to determine if a fire is human caused. She says investigators first look at a lightning map.
“That shows us what lightning has been in the area, so if there’s lighting in the area, probable cause,” she said.
Then, she says investigators visually survey the point of origin for anything obvious, like matches, lighters or fireworks. Henderson says the point of origin is the initial area of the fire when crews arrive on scene.
Fire officials say there are a series of investigative methods they do not share with the public as not to give arsonists any ideas.
Montana’s Tribal Forestry Division is also warning people to take care of tribal land.
Tribal officials say they have responded to a number of suspicious starts in the last few weeks. They want the public to be on the lookout for possible arsonists or suspicious activity.
They say unattended fires and carelessness have also been problems recently.