HELENA, Mont. — Rain and cooler temperatures forecast for later this week may not end Montana’s fire season, but a meteorologist says “it will put a dent in it.”
The cold, wet weather system will bring welcome relief to firefighters, those whose property has been threatened and communities that have dealt with smoke-filled air for nearly two months.
Snow may fall at higher elevations Thursday night and temperatures could fall into the low 30s early Friday and Saturday.
The National Weather Service is forecasting rain Thursday and Friday, with most areas seeing at least a half inch. Areas east of the Continental Divide could see up to 2 inches of rain, the weather service said. Snow is forecast at higher elevations.
The rain may not end the fire season, “but it will put a dent in it,” and will clear out most of the smoke, meteorologist Luke Robinson told the Missoulian.
Near Seeley Lake, fire information officer Mike Cole said Tuesday the Rice Ridge Fire could see just under a half-inch of rain, with most of it falling on Thursday.
The fire’s long-term analyst says a half-inch of rain will usually slow the fire down for about four days, Cole said.
Still, it’s not guaranteed rain will fall evenly over the burned area or how much rain might make it through the forest canopy and onto the floor. Without a heavy precipitation, fire still has places to hide, such as inside a log or in root systems, Cole said.
All evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of Seeley Lake, but some residences remain under evacuation warnings.
The fire, the largest active blaze in the state, has burned 218 square miles (564 square kilometers) of forest land since it started in July. It is about 33 percent contained.
Another rainy system could move into the state on Tuesday.
“It looks like it’s going to give a one-two punch to our fire season, and in fact, temperatures will be cooling down to more like mid-October instead of mid-September,” meteorologist Corby Dickerson told The Montana Standard.