Wild

A truck drives west on Churchill Road under a haze of blue smoke on Aug. 16.

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An emergency burn ban in Gallatin County has been lifted thanks to cooler temperatures and rainfall throughout August.

The Gallatin County Commission on Tuesday approved rescinding the county-wide burn ban that went into effect last month. Lifting the ban allows recreational fires, driving off-road and removes restrictions on smoking outdoors.

Despite the removal of the burn ban, many fire departments around the county are likely to continue prohibiting open burning, said Patrick Lonergan, chief of Gallatin County Emergency Management and Fire.

“Obviously we still have the ability to have fires right now. It’s not like we’re out of fire season,” Lonergan said.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest is also lifting fire restrictions on Wednesday in all areas except for the Sioux Ranger District, which covers Forest Service lands in southeastern Montana and northwestern South Dakota.

The energy release component, or how readily vegetation and fuel will burn, was a driving factor for the burn ban last month. Record-setting heat and little to no rain led to fuel moisture levels reaching dangerous territory.

A shift in weather over the past month — cooler temperatures, rain and fewer instances of lightning — caused the energy release component to dip to average or below-average levels, Lonergan said.

Hot and dry conditions are unlikely to rebound to the record-setting range in July, Lonergan said, but even so, people should pay attention to anything they burn.

“It’s important to keep in mind that until there is snow on the ground you can have a fire that takes off — and Bridger Foothills is a decent example of that,” Lonergan said, referring to the lightening-caused fire that started last September and burned more than 8,000 acres northeast of Bozeman.

Gallatin County is not the first to reconsider fire restrictions. Bozeman lifted the city’s burn ban last week, citing cooler and wetter weather. Jefferson, Broadwater and Park counties dropped from stage two fire restrictions to stage one.

“We did get enough moisture in forested areas,” said Broadwater County Fire Chief Ed Shindoll. “And with hunting season coming up we know we’re not going to be able to keep people out, so let’s get them some easier rules to follow.”

Joe Brummel, the director of Disaster and Emergency Management Services in Madison County, said that open burning and fireworks are still restricted, but recreational burning is allowed again.

Even though the hot and dry weather is unlikely to return as September arrives, Lonergan said that another burn ban could be on the table if needed. But for now, the conditions have improved enough to give him confidence in this decision.

“We’re trying to keep our community safe from inadvertent fire getting away from somebody,” Lonergan said. “And recognizing where we stand conditions-wise and the desires of the community, we’re probably in a place where it’s safe for people to do these things.”

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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