Rockies Fire Behavior Outlook
(click on any graphic
in this product to enlarge it)
for: September 13 - 20, 2013
Issued: 09/13/13 @ 1500 MDT
Update: as warranted
Risa Lange-Navarro, FBAN
Stu Hoyt, Regional Fuels Specialist
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.
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:
Region Fire Weather
Current Weather Map/National Forecast NFDRS
Current Weather Map:
Forecast NFDRS Fire Danger:
maps to enlarge)
Regional Surface Map for
Northern Rockies area 24 hour precipitation
precipitation outlooks at U.S.
Today's Precipitation Outlook,
Third and Fourth Day Precipitation Outlook , U.S. 5 Day
Precipitation Outlook, and U.S. 14 Day Precipitation
See 5 Day Weather Forecasts and Loops at
Northern Rockies Graphical Weather Forecasts.
State of the
Rockies Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory
• See observed values and other information
in both the Northern
Rockies Fire & Fuels Status and the
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”
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
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
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
• 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
site or the MODIS
Active Fire Mapping Program site.
your story, send a picture! Share your observations
with inquiring minds. Call (406) 329-4924 and
contribute to improved firefighter awareness
See also Northern
Rockies 7 Day Significant Fire Potential
Day National Fire Potential Map.
See 6-10 and 8-14 day
outlook charts located: 6-10
Day Prognosis, 8-14
Predictive Services Area Indices: (See
Northern Rockies ERC,
of September 12, 2013
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
ones to watch are PSAs 05, 07, 10 & 11**
• 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).
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
• PSA-02, 04, 06, 08 and 16 are Below
Average (drier). All PSAs are trending up
(wetter) except for PSA 16 which is trending
• 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
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
on PSA for specific ERC, 1000-hr and 100-hr
Fuel Moisture graphs)
From Average Greenness
of Average Precipitation
maps to enlarge)
Validation and Feedback:
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
BASE ALL ACTIONS
ON CURRENT AND EXPECTED FIRE BEHAVIOR!