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National Weather Service says wildfire season is milder than predicted

by KFBB News (Billings, Mont.) |

Several wildfires continue to burn across the state, but an expert said it's still shaping up to be a milder year than expected.

Earlier this year the National Weather Service predicted a below-to-average fire season. Now, we're in the middle of it as severe storms continue to sweep the state. Christian Cassell, a Lead Forecaster with the National Weather Service, said those storms can spark more wildfires.

"In terms of Cascade County and Great Falls itself, it really depends on the year, how active the jet-stream is over us, and the availability of lightning. Certainly this year so far we've had more than the usual amount of lightning at least for this summer," Cassell said.

So far 18,247 acres have burned across the state. Over 9,000 acres burned are from lightning-caused fires alone. The Beeskove, Snow Creek, and Moss Ranch Fires were all caused by lightning strikes. Meanwhile, over 8,300 acres have burned this season from human-caused fires such as the North Hills fire.

Still, those numbers are just a fraction of the 500,000 acres first predicted by the NWS ahead of wildfire season.

Cassell said, "It's definitely not trending very active. There's a lot of dead fuel in the forest, and because of the unusual amount of lightning activity this summer, when the lightning hits those dead fuels, it starts those wildfires, and so that's what we've seen in a lot of cases."

Although conditions are shaping up to be a relatively mild wildfire season so far, he said we aren't out of trouble yet. 

"I would say wildfire season is not over yet – in fact, it's really just getting going up here. I would say we need to give it another month before we say it's been a quiet season for sure," Cassell said.