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Northern Rockies Fire Behavior Outlook
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Valid for: September 13 - 20, 2013
Date/Time Issued: 09/13/13 @ 1500 MDT

Next Update: as warranted

Signed: Risa Lange-Navarro, FBAN
Stu Hoyt, Regional Fuels Specialist

This is a general fire behavior outlook covering the entire Northern Rockies Geographic Area.  It is designed to provide wildland fire managers with an overall view of fire behavior potential and to help wildland firefighters with the fire order "initiate all actions based on current and expected fire behavior".  Firefighters must use onsite observations and spot weather forecasts to calculate site-specific fire behavior for individual wildland fires.

Fire Weather Summary: NOTE: Fire Weather summary was done on the date issued. Always check fire weather forecasts daily for any changes.

**Red Flag Warnings/Fire Weather Watches: There are no RED FLAG warnings in effect at this time. Check daily for any changes. Be aware there may be Hazardous Weather Outlooks posted that can affect fire behavior also.

Looks like the weather may be starting to change to a moister pattern in the next week. If models hold true the region could begin to see some widespread wetting rains by the middle of next week. This could put the damper on units attempting to get into fall prescribed burning. Stay tuned.

For complete fire weather watch and warning details and fire weather forecasts see: Western Region Fire Weather

**National Current Weather Map/National Forecast NFDRS Fire Danger:

National Current Weather Map:  
National Forecast NFDRS Fire Danger:
(Click maps to enlarge)
Current Weather Looping Map
National Fire Danfer for Tomorrow

See the MesoWest Regional Surface Map for Northern Rockies area 24 hour precipitation amounts.

See national precipitation outlooks at U.S. Today's Precipitation Outlook, U.S. Third and Fourth Day Precipitation Outlook , U.S. 5 Day Precipitation Outlook, and U.S. 14 Day Precipitation Outlook.

See 5 Day Weather Forecasts and Loops at
NWS Northern Rockies Graphical Weather Forecasts.

State of the Fuels:

Northern Rockies Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory

• See observed values and other information in both the Northern Rockies Fire & Fuels Status and the National Fuel Moisture database. Add your trapline to the mix!

SPECIAL NOTE - Beetle-killed stands have increased dramatically over the past few years. Most observations are in the ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine stands throughout the Northern Rockies. Some research (Canada & USA) has shown foliar fuel moisture contents of <40% combined with low RHs has the potential for plume-dominated crown fire behavior. Recent gray-dead standing snags add significantly to fire intensity and spotting potential (i.e. bark pieces) when combined with a ladder-fuel understory. This type of fire behavior has been known to happen with-in minutes of the understory igniting. In addition, there have been instances of independent crown fire activity without surface fire in red phase.

Snowpack/Spring precipitation in the Northern Rockies this past winter/spring was again variable throughout the area. Although we had more snowpack in the eastern part of the Geographic area, the fine fuel growth, for a second year, was not compacted by the snowpack. Light, flashy fuels in the valleys and foothills, left over from 2011 and 2012, have created a situation that as curing occurs there will be strong potential for high intensity, high rates-of-spread fires. Most areas in western Montana and central Idaho lost their snowpack in February due to warm temperatures and little precipitation. We had a cool April, warm to hot/dry conditions in late spring caused the snowpack to melt at a faster rate than usual. We’re into summer and fire season has started, not much snowpack left but most upper elevations are green.

An antidotal observation to think about, there have been reports from areas west of Missoula of huckleberry leaves being so dry that they would crumble if rubbed in your hand. This was before the precipitation on August 1st. If you see an interesting condition that may have a fire behavior impact, please let us know.

As of 09/10/13 persistent/intensifying drought condition continue in the southern half of Idaho and Montana. There continue to be some key areas to watch for the rest of the season: Central Idaho, West Central/South Central Montana and Yellowstone National Park are all in “Abnormally Dry” to “Moderate Drought” intensities. The dry conditions are starting to affect Northern Idaho also. Southwest Montana is currently in “Severe” to “Severe” drought intensities.

The temperature predictions for Oct/Nov/Dec split the region on a diagonal line running from southwest to northeast. Below the line (Beaverhead, Gallatin, Custer, Dakota Prairie Grasslands) temperatures are predicted to be “Above Normal” and above the line temps are “Normal”. Precipitation predictions are “Above Normal” for the entire GA.

As for Greenness, August 27 – September 02, 2013…The current maps is showing a significant change across much of the region as the fuels mature and go into dormancy. Big changes across much of Eastern Montana and North Dakota. These areas are showing a departure from average conditions compared to last week’s map getting drier with average greenness dropping below 100% into the 65 – 94% range. Northern Idaho and Northwest Montana are showing a drop in most of the area on the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai NFs to be below average ranging from around 85% - 105% of normal. West Central Montana and Camas Prairie/Central Idaho including the southern portion of the Idaho Panhandle, Clearwater, Flathead and Lolo National Forests are showing average greenness to be 65 – 74% of average (Drier than average). East of the Continental Divide from the Canadian border south to Idaho including northeastern Yellowstone Park and across the bottom of southeast Montana is showing much below average greenness, ranging from 55% to 95% of average (Much drier).

With the hot/dry temperatures, grasses at almost all elevations in the western half of Montana and Central Idaho are now completely cured or are in the late curing phase (don’t be fooled by color). The little bits of moisture that has been scattered around the region has allowed some grasses to have green up a bit, and in areas where there has been good wetting rains these areas may see the grasses with some flushing. As the conditions dry these grass fuels will remain available to burn. Eastern Montana and North Dakota were starting to finally cure but the recent rains have kept the curing at bay. As has been repeated for several weeks if the precipitation ever stops out in that country they might see some curing. It will eventually have to as winter begins to close in. With all the rain that they’ve had out there, there has been good growth to the grasses. Keep this in the back of your mind for next year, especially if there isn’t a good snowpack to crush it down (remember 2012 and Eastern Montana).

Live & Dead Fuel moistures (measured) reported recently, Remember for the most part live moisture contents 100% or below are considered “Mature foliage, new growth complete and comparable to older perennial foliage”: Douglas-fir (DF), Engelmann spruce (ES), Lodgepole pine (LPP), Ponderosa pine (PP), Subalpine fir (SAF), White Bark Pine (WBP), Western Larch (WL) Common Juniper (CJ), Rocky Mtn Juniper (RMJ), Mountain Big Sagebrush (MBSb), Silver Sagebrush (SSb), Wyoming Big Sagebrush (WBSb), Bluebunch Wheatgrass (BBWg), Grouse Whortleberry (GWB), Kinnikinnick (K), Snowberry (SB), Pinegrass (PG), Bitterbrush (BB), Idaho Fescue (IF), Duff (DC),

Helena NF - 09/06 & 09/10 RMJ 85% (two sites one was trending down the other up), MBSb 70 – 88% (up), 1000-hrs 9 – 15% (up).

Bitterroot NF – 09/03 LPP 129% (level), Bug Hit LPP 10% (up), WBP 136% (down), SAF 133% (up),GWB 119% (up) 1000-hr 10% (down).

West Glacier NPS – 09/03 LPP 132% (up), PG 173% (up), SB 138% (up) and 1000-hr 18% (down).

Long Pine Custer NF - 08/31 PP 103% (up) 1000-hr 25% (up).

Helena NF – 8/27 RMJ 84 – 94% (down), MBSb 65 – 79% (down) 1000-hr 8 – 15% (mostly trending down).

Fire Behavior Outlook:
***Due to a cool wet April and warm, dry early May and then a mix of cool/wet & hot/dry June there is a tremendous amount of light fuels-grasses-present at lower elevations that have cured or are beginning to cure. Cheatgrass areas are completely cured. These fuels are one of the Four Common Denominators for Fatal or Near-Fatal wildfires.***

Fire season here in the Northern Rockies is not over yet but we are definitely slowing down. With the predicted move into more “typical" Fall weather next week of cooler temps and higher RH’s; look for most fire behavior to be moderated.

We still could have isolated large fire growth if we have a wind event with high temperatures and low RH’s but the chances of that are low to maybe moderate. A majority of the time this large growth occurs is a result of weather conditions such as a rapid breakdown of a high pressure system or localized wind event. We’re in the tail end of the normal timeframe for dry, cold fronts to occur across the area. Sometimes these fronts come in with just a light breeze, other times they can come in with 50+ mph winds over several hours.

Those pesky holdovers from lightning storms are still a possibility given the right conditions of warm & dry conditions. The chances of lightning storms in general is low and usually tapers off rapidly since we just don’t have the convective conditions needed for the storms overall. However, we’re now heading into hunting season and the chances of human caused fires picks up rapidly. Fires this time of season can be found in old stumps or small abandoned campfires. Kind of interesting fire behavior-wise with these hunter fires…the cooler the temperature the more fires are started. Whether they grow in size all depends on the temperature, RH and the dryness of the fuels and the hunters actions.

We continue to see the loss of daylight, around 4 min/day as the Fall season draws nearer. Shorter burn periods times will decrease the amount of time a fire has a chance to buildup intensity under normal conditions. Now the possibility of inversions, thermal belts development and poor RH recoveries is still there, so if you’re on a fire or prescribed burn be alert to this condition. Always check with your local weather service office for details.

Live fuels are changing color rapidly which means they are drying out getting ready for their dormant season. There could be areas where these fuels are available despite the Fall weather conditions, most likely on the usual west, south and east aspects. But with any appreciable moisture these fuels could become non-flammable until they dry out-yep the big duh.

Overall the heavy fuels will remain a main carrier of fire until we get into the weather pattern of precipitation events coming every few days which is usual for most of the Northern Rockies. Remember these heavy fuels can continue to burn even when RHs are high.

For the next 3 – 5 days expect to see mostly low-moderate fire behavior across much of the Northern Rockies with predicted high pressure system with monsoonal moisture moving through the area brining cooler/moister weather through early next week. Look for windy conditions for the Eastern part of the Northern Rockies at the the tail-end of the weekend, giving them a chance at moderate fire behavior but probably short lived if moisture follows the exit of high pressure. As I mentioned before mid-week bringing more typical of mid-September weather keeping light fuels moist but allowing heavy fuels to burn if the precipitation is not long in duration. Even though all fuels have been available to burn the majority of ERCs are showing the usual overall trend down for the tail end of fire season here in the Northern Rockies.

Fire behavior that can be expected (barring long duration precipitation events) includes:
• Surface fires will be the norm unless ladder fuels are present, with isolated single tree torching but it’ll be creeping and smoldering mostly.
• The heavy fuels and fine, dead fuels continue to be the main carrier of fire.
• Isolated spotting where receptive fuels haven’t had moisture is still a possibility.
• In areas where windy conditions are predicted fire activity could pick-up as the wind (without any moisture) dries fuels.
• Bug-killed stands and green-but dead trees surrounding the bug-killed stands will still be a viable fuel as well as just an overall hazardous situation/ These stands are extremely dry and can fall easily with or with-out winds.

Heading into mid- September when the 100-hr & 1000-hr fuel moistures have “bottomed-out” and are starting to trend upward (getting wetter). This year seems to be following those trends for the majority of Predictive Services Areas (PSAs). It is very unlikely that any prolonged hot/dry conditions will occur in the next few weeks, so the normal upward trend of these fuels will continued until the normal “fire season-ending” event occurs which will complete the 2013 fire season here in the Northern Rockies, we think.

PSAs NR01 Northern Idaho Panhandle & Northwest Montana/NR12 Northern Plains & Missouri Breaks/NR15 Southeast Montana & Southwest North Dakota
Fire behavior should generally be LOW in these areas due to continued precipitation events. The fuel conditions are becoming cured but until these fuels truly cure and dry, direct attack should be possible if fires do start unless they are wind-driven which could occur around September 16th. Any alignment of dry fuels, slope and winds will accelerate rates of spread on any fire. Monitor the weather and be prepared for any wind shifts.

PSAs NR02 Southern Idaho Panhandle/NR03 Western Montana/NR04 Camas Prairie of Idaho/NR05 North Central Idaho & Bitterroot-Sapphire Mountains/NR06 Glacier National Park & Wilderness Areas/NR07 Southwest Montana, West of Continental Divide/NR08 Southwest Montana, East of Continental Divide/NR09 Northern Front Range/NR10 West Central Montana/NR11 South Central Montana & Yellowstone National Park/NR13 Southern Montana/NR14 Northeast Montana & Northwest North Dakota/NR16 Eastern North Dakota
Expect LOW-MODERATE fire behavior this week with predicted precipitation events in the southern ½ of the Northern Rockies and high pressure for the rest of the area over the weekend. Real kicker for the Eastern part of Montana and Western part of North and South Dakota with Montana and western North Dakota you’ll probably have a chance at wind-driven fires with predicted windy conditions around September 16th where the right conditions exist-dry fuels, conducive temperatures and RHs. Fuels that are cured & dried out will have the highest fire activity, yeah that’s a given. Still the possibility of increased rates-of-spread in light fuels and high intensities in fires that have 100-hr & 1000-hr fuels can be expected, barring precipitation events. Heavy fuels will continue to burn readily and most likely be completely consumed, unless a long duration precipitation event occurs or suppression action is taken. Where fires occur on slopes, watch for rolling material to start spot fires below. Areas where mountain pine beetle-killed stands with heavy dead/downed fuels occurs; look for quick transitions from surface to crown fires where ladder fuels carry surface fire into the overstory. Any alignment of dry fuels, slope and winds will accelerate rates of spread on any fire. Monitor the weather and be prepared for any wind shifts from storms.

Observed Fire Behavior:
Prescribed burning has started here in the Northern Rockies with the western ½ of the area igniting burns this past week. Observed fire behavior consisted of the heavy fuels burning quite well and if a thermal belt developed these fuels burned throughout the night. Isolated single tree torching was also observed but most of the spread was in the surface fuels, the lighter fuels carrying fire.

The heavy fuels which are continuing to dry out. The green-looking fuels are drier than folks thought they were and are carrying fire readily. In addition all aspects are available to burn with some exceptions for those areas that have been hit with heavier precipitation events as well as fuels slow to cure.

The 100-hr & 1000-hr fuels and light fuels have been the main carriers of surface fire. Fire scars have only been slowing the fire not stopping them.

DAMNATION Spotted Bear RD/Flathead NF, located 21 miles southeast of Swan Lake, MT. Fire is burning closed timber, forest floor litter. Fire behavior observed was smoldering.

GOLD PAN COMPLEX (Gold Pan, Goat, Nez Peak, Thirteen fires) West Fork RD, Bitterroot NF/MT & ID, located ~35 miles SW of Darby, MT. The fire is burning in fuel model 10 Timber with heavy dead/downed fuels and understory, 2 Timber (litter and understory) and 9 Timber and litter. Unburned mixed conifer stand, bug killed DF and LPP, as well as numerous old fire scar areas in and around the fire. The Thirteen fire is surrounded by the 2012 Mustang fire scar. The Gold Pan Complex is a long term event and will likely be contained when a season ending event occurs. Fire activity has been some isolated torching and creeping.

HELLS CANYON Pintler RD/Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF, MT, located 8 miles west of Silver Star, MT. The fire is burning in timber and grass. Fire behavior consists of numerous isolated hot spots present within the fire perimeter that are still generating some heat, & subsequently, some white & wispy smoke. The fire is currently creeping & smoldering through the duff & litter layers, with some isolated occurrences of 1,000 & 10,000 hour fuels igniting & displaying shorter flame lengths.

HARRY’S FLAT Missoula RD/Lolo NF, MT, located 15 miles due east of Stevensville, MT, at the southern end of Welcome Creek Wilderness. The fire is burning in grass and scattered timber in very steep terrain with rock screes. Fire actively backed and flanked in to Rock Creek drainage. Some individual tree torching was observed. Fire activity was limited to a surface fire.

MINERS PARADISE COMPLEX (Emigrant, North Eightmile, Horsetail and Sheep Fires) Yellowstone RD, Gallatin NF, located 19 miles SW of Livingston, Fires have been burning in timber and grass. The 2001 Fridley Fire has continued to slow fire growth. Smoldering and creeping on the NE flank of the Emigrant Fire. None on the remaining fires.

MOUNT TWO TOP Gardiner RD/Gallatin NF, MT, located SW of West Yellowstone, MT. The fire is burning in heavy, high elevation mixed conifer and subalpine fire, with heavy, dead and down fuel and steep terrain. Recent fire behavior has been smoldering and creeping, mostly in hard black.

RED SHALE & ROCK CREEK Rocky Mtn RD/Lewis & Clark NF, MT, Red Shale located 37 miles west and Rock Creek 41 miles west of Choteau, MT. Fires are burning in fuel model 10 timber with heavy dead and down fuel, timber regeneration with litter and understory. The Red Shale fire perimeter remains within the 1988 Gates Park Fire perimeter. It is working its way up Frazier Creek and Route Creek where it crossed to the east of the North Fork Sun River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The fire continues to reduce much of the heavy downed and standing dead timber with pockets of thick, young lodgepole pines regenerating from the 1988 Gates Park Fire. Both fire have been creeping and smoldering but because of the recent rains they are not active and are putting up limited smoke.

SIAH Powell RD/Clearwater NF, ID located 12 miles west of the Powell Ranger Station Observed Fire Behavior as of 9/12 was single tree torching. Dark colored smoke showing within perimeter.

Spotted Bear RD/Flathead NF, located 19 miles southeast of Swan SNOW CREEK Lake, MT. Fire is burning in timber and understory litter/brush. Fire behavior has been mostly smoldering.

A little dated but sets up how the Southwest part of Montana started out fire season. Of special concern was the fire behavior on the Pioneer and Rumsey Gulch fires on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge NFs on May 13th. Both fires were in stands heavily affected by mountain pine beetle (MPB). These stands consisted of a mixture of dead, beetle-hit but not dead yet and green trees. This area of Montana did not received their usual late fall rains. The snowpack in the mid-elevations and valleys was gone by the first part of February. What snow they received this winter was dry, with very little water content. The ERCs for this area had been tracking at or exceeding the record maximums since late April.

The Pioneer fire was located along the Big Hole River which funneled winds. The wind aided the fire’s spread on the ground and transitioning it to the crowns and into a passive crown fire. Local resources described the timeline between when the ignition occurred to when the fire was up and running both on the round and through the crowns as 10-15 mins. Approximately 15 minutes after the MPB affected and surrounding green trees “torched” they began to fall down affecting the crew direct attack capability. The crews described more of a “limb shower” rather than the usual ember shower when the trees were torching, the tree limbs were so brittle.

The Rumsey Gulch fire was located in a side drainage off the Philipsburg Valley that was very affected by the local winds. This area had had the larger MPB affected trees removed and mitigated in the wildland urban interface but the branches and other 10-hr, 100-hr and 1000-hr fuels were left on the ground beneath the residual overstory. There was grass in the understory that had not greened up yet and was readily consumed by the fire. The fire spread from its origin on flatter ground to a north-northwest aspect. Crews on the ground said once the fire hit the slope it “crowned out” until it hit the top of the ridge, then died down. They said this was a classic case of alignment of fuels, slope and winds coming together. The fire reportedly went to 350 acres in 40 mins. Looking at the topography of the area there is a very narrow and curved drainage the northwest of the fire on the other side of Kroger pond as well as a saddle directly west of the fire that look to be instrumental in funneling the wind toward the slope the fire ran up.

For other fires in the Northern Rockies or the Nation, visit the InciWeb site or the MODIS Active Fire Mapping Program

Tell your story, send a picture! Share your observations with inquiring minds. Call (406) 329-4924 and contribute to improved firefighter awareness and safety.

See also Northern Rockies 7 Day Significant Fire Potential and 7 Day National Fire Potential Map.

See 6-10 and 8-14 day outlook charts located: 6-10 Day Prognosis, 8-14 Day Prognosis.

**Important Predictive Services Area Indices: (See Northern Rockies ERC, 1000-Hr and 100-Hr Charts) as of September 12, 2013

*-*NOTE: The Northern Rockies Predictive Service Areas have changed since 2012. PLEASE take note of the new areas and changes in the boundaries of others.*-*

>> REMEMBER most of the weather information comes from Sig’s and not single RAWS<<
      **Overall ones to watch are PSAs 05, 07, 10 & 11**

Energy Release Component (ERC):
• PSAs-02, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, and 16 are ABOVE AVERAGE. The ERC’s at all of these PSA’s are trending upwards (drier).
• PSAs-01, 03, 04, 13 and 14 are at Average. These PSA’s are trending both upwards (PSA 01, 03, 14 drier) and downwards (PSA 04, 13 wetter)
• PSAs-12 and 15 are Below Average. The ERC’s for these two PSA’s are trending upward (drier).

Heavy Fuel Moistures:
For 1000- hour fuels -
• PSAs-05, 07, 10 and 11 are at the 10% PERCENTILE. (Very dry). The 1000 fuel moisture for these 3 PSA’s are mostly trending upwards (wetter).
• PSA-02, 04, 06, 08 and 16 are Below Average (drier). All PSAs are trending up (wetter) except for PSA 16 which is trending down (drier).
• PSAs-01, 03, 09, 12, 13 and 14 are Average. 1000 hr fuel moistures for these PSA’s are trending upward (wetter).
• PSA-15 is above average and trending upwards (wetter).

For 100- hour fuels -
• PSAs- 16 is Below Average (dry). This PSA is trending downwards (drier).
• PSAs-02, 04, 05, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 13 and 14 are at Average. Trend lines for these PSA’s are downwards (drier).
• PSA-01, 03, 06, 12 and 15 are Above Average. The trend line for these PSAs is flat.

(Graphic) Map of Northern Rockies Predictive Service Areas - Click on PSA to view ERC, 1000-hr and 100-hr graphs
(Click on PSA for specific ERC, 1000-hr and 100-hr Fuel Moisture graphs)

**Departure From Average Greenness   **Percent of Average Precipitation
(Click maps to enlarge)
Departure from Average Greeness   Percent of Average Precipitation for Last  12 Months

PSA - NR16 Eastern North Dakota PSA - NR15 Southeast Montana & Southwest North Dakota PSA - NR14 Northeast Montana & Northwest North Dakota PSA - NR04 Camas Prairie of Idaho PSA - NR06 Glacier National Park & Wilderness Areas PSA - NR09 Northern Front Range PSA - NR10 West Central Montana PSA - NR13 Southern Montana (Big Horn / Powder River) PSA - NR12 Southeast Montana / Southwest North Dakota PSA - NR03 Western Montana PSA - NR11 South Central Montana & Yellowstone National Park PSA - NR08 Southwest Montana, East of Continental Divide PSA - NR07 Southwest Montana, West of Continental Divide PSA - NR05 North Central Idaho & Bitterroot / Sapphire Mountains PSA - NR02 Southern Idaho Panhandle Idaho PSA - NR01 Northern Idaho Panhandle / Northwest Montana

Validation and Feedback:

Please contact the NRCC Predictive Services Group at 329-4880 to provide us feedback on the accuracy of these forecasts. Your observations about general fuel conditions and observed fire behavior help us validate the accuracy of our forecasts. Our bottom line and the reason we are here is to provide for the safety of firefighters in field.



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