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BLM Plans Multiple Prescribed Burns In North Central Montana

Porcupine prescribed burn Custer Gallatin National Forest 2018.
Courtesy of Custer Gallatin National Forest
A prescribed burn in the Porcupine area of Custer Gallatin National Forest in 2018.

Land managers are taking advantage of cool, wet conditions to intentionally burn areas they think could help reduce wildland fire risk to certain communities. This season the Bureau of Land Management is planning multiple prescribed burns in north central Montana.

Four of the five prescribed burns are scheduled this spring near Winnett, Lewistown, Glasgow and Opheim. A fifth burn northeast of White Sulphur Springs is set to take place between August and November.

The projects range from nearly 4,000 acres of federal, state and private lands in the Missouri/Musselshell Breaks to 50 acres in the North Moccasins Mountains. They’re part of a larger national wildfire reduction strategy.

Sarah Holm, a BLM public affairs specialist, says the purpose of the prescribed burns is different at each location.

“Some areas we are trying to reduce conifer encroachment of the meadows. In other areas we are trying to help restore the crested wheat grass back to the native vegetation, but the main purpose is to make it a more resilient landscape to wildfires,” Holm says.

During prescribed burns, land managers intentionally ignite fires in a specific area to burn brush and smaller trees so they are less likely to fuel wild blazes later. Holm says the agency has to wait for the right conditions before starting a burn: high humidity, low wind, moist soil.

“That’s why these five burns are being held over the next nine months because we can plan it for one day, and then that day comes and it can be too windy or something can be off and we have to wait,” Holm says.

The National Weather Service last week issued a red flag warning for parts of central and southeastern Montana due to dry winds that could lead to “extreme fire behavior.”

Wednesday of this week, the Billings Fire Department said one of two separate controlled burns on the west end of the city got out of hand and had to be put out.

Holm with BLM says people can check the agency’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to find out when prescribed burns are happening or contact them if they’re unsure.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation recently finished a hazardous fuels reduction project near the town of Fishtail in Stillwater County. A timber purchaser is wrapping up another project in the Huntley Butte area near Columbus.

The National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook pegs Montana’s fire potential as average for March.