The upper elevations of the Bitterroot National Forest were already considered in "Very High" fire danger and now the entire forest is at that level. Fire Management Officer Mark Wilson told the Ravalli County Commissioners earlier this week that the weather of hot and dry conditions, along with thunderstorms with their lightning and wind, were increasing the danger level. Elsewhere, Missoula County public lands also moved into the "Very High" category. To the west, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho has reached the "Extreme" level in areas.

A Wednesday morning lightning storm caused at least 5 new fires, all on the Stevensville Ranger District. Two were in Sweathouse Creek, one in Big Creek, one in Sheafman Creek and one in Cow Creek. All were a half-acre or less in size. There were about 300 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes from the storms. The Darby Ranger District had a lighting-caused fire Tuesday near Kidney Lake and it was extinguished.

A continuing problem on the Bitterroot National Forest - abandoned campfires. Wilson said, "Unfortunately, we are seeing at least two or three of these a week. We really need all our resources available right now for initial attack and quick response to new starts, instead of being called away to douse abandoned campfires." 'Very High' danger level means fires will spread quickly. Besides completely putting out your campfire, forest users should be careful about chains between car and trailer that might drag, causing sparks. Keep your vehicle on established roads. The exhaust system can ignite tall grass. As of mid-day Wednesday, August 19, there have been 11 human-caused and 22 lightning fires on the Bitterroot National Forest.

The Ravalli County Commissioners closed the open burning season weeks ago. However, private property small campfires and cooking fires are still allowed. The hazy conditions in the valley are coming from forest fires mainly to the west of Montana.