Wildfire season: Most acres burned since 1930s, official says

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Seventy-five wildfires have burned 85,000 acres in the Kootenai National Forest this season — the most acres scorched since at least the 1930s.

Yet it could have been worse, suggested Forest Supervisor Chris Savage to the Lincoln County Commission on Oct. 4.

“The conditions were more than ripe for fire,” Savage said. “It could have been worse if lightning came in early August. (But) we didn’t get a whole lot of lightning for a while.”

In a typical year Savage said the forest can see “well over 100” fires and even more than 200 in some years, such as 2015.

As points of comparison to this year’s acreage, Savage pointed to three other memorable wildfire seasons: 1994 with 54,642 acres burned, 2000 with 45,295 and 2015 with 31,826.

Savage also noted how large individual fires were this year compared to 1988’s Dry Fork fire, which at 13,000 acres was the largest previous fire on record.

This year’s Caribou, West Fork and Moose peak fires all surpassed that earlier fire, coming in at 24,753, 20,072 and 13,903 acres, respectively, Savage said.

At 12,938 acres, the Gibralter Ridge fire essentially matched the Dry Fork fire.

Other unusual aspects of this fire season, Savage said, were that “most of the fires were in everybody’s backyards” rather than in remote locations, and that over an 80-day period only .04 inches of rain fell on Libby, far below an average of 2.1 inches occurring in the same period.

Savage said the forest as a whole was about as dry.

Savage praised what he called “good coordination across the board of all entities involved” in the various fire responses.

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