Common Wildfire Questions with Jessica Braun

As August comes to a close and a light haze blows into Gallatin Valley that slowly seems to become thicker, save the occasional afternoon thunderstorm, we all start to think a little bit more about wildfires. Wildfires are a natural occurrence of which the general public knows very little. This is exactly why we sat down with Jessica Braun, owner of Firebreak Management, and asked some questions that many Gallatin Valley residents have on their minds this time of year. We find this blog both educational and entertaining, so maybe share it with a friend if you think so too.

  • Q: Is all this spring precipitation good for fire season? Why?
    • A: It’s good for the fire season right now, because what happened is everything was wet and we never had an early fire season which usually happens in March/April, it made everything green and wet which is hard to burn. What’s gonna happen though, is if this drying trend continues, Montana’s fire season usually starts in August and goes through mid-late september, or even october. So if everything dries up, all the grass that grew really tall and green is going to be brown and dead and dry and will burn exponentially better than it would have before. So, if it stays green, we’ll have missed the fire season. If not, we could have a big fire season this fall. 
  • Q: How does snow up high this late into the summer affect the fire season?
    • A: It’s two-fold, It helps to keep everything wet up high which is good, so lightning striking up high is shielded by snow, but on the flip side, what it also does up there this time of year when it’s really sunny and hot is the snow acts as a reflector, so when the sun is beating down on the snow, it reflects back up onto the trees and is actually drying the trees out from the top down. So when that lightning strikes, it can make trees more susceptible to catching fire because they’re so dry. 
  • Q: When are wildfires most likely to occur?
    • A: So in Montana, our fire season is August-September, that’s our peak fire season. Standard layoff time for firefighters is October.
  • Q: How do wildfires impact the environment/ecosystem?
    • A: Like most cases with fire, we have a double-edged sword here. Fire can, of course, be very destructive to our environment and ecosystem. However, for example, there are pine trees native to Montana that will only sprout their seeds with the amount of heat that fire creates. When fire goes through a low lying burn, it adds minerals to the soil and opens the soil up, hopefully for native plant species to grow. This can also give way for invasive species to grow. Fire can also trim “ladder fuels” which are plants that allow fire to spread from the forest floor to the forest canopy. 
  • Q: What causes most wildfires?
    • A: Humans cause 80% of wildfires. Beyond that, lightning is a big proponent, but it’s mostly just humans being ignorant, having irresponsible fun with fire and fireworks. 
  • Q: Are wildfires bad for forests?
    • A: They can be, so, the Bridger Foothills fire for example, ripped off the forest. It killed everything in its path. Because it killed everything in its path, eventually all those dead trees and plants will fall and create even more fuel. It’s going to burn again up there, and it will be worse, unless we clear out that deadfall. Overall, wildfires are not bad for forests, wildfires that burn healthily are the best thing for our forest, they’re a natural part of our ecosystem which is something we don’t realize because we’ve been manipulating fires for so long we forget that they’re natural. 
  • Q: What is the best way to prevent wildfires?
    • A: First and foremost, being educated about your activities is the best way to prevent wildfires. For example, not blasting fireworks off in the dry wilderness and not leaving campfires unattended. As far as preventing your home from burning is to practice fire mitigation techniques before there is a fire at your house. This creates a “stand alone structure.” A stand alone structure is a home that is prepared enough to not burn down in the case of a wildfire. That’s what we shoot for, and what we hope to educate people about. 
  • Q: When is a burn ban implemented?
    • A: When the fire signs reach “high” fire danger. That is when conditions are probable enough that it won’t take very much to cause a fire. When we go weeks at a time with 90+ degree heat and no rain is when fire bans are implemented. 
  • Q: How hot can forest fires burn?
    • A: It varies a bunch, whether it’s a controlled burn, the dryness of the forest, the wind, the amount of fuels, the location, the topography, the variables are virtually endless. The flashpoint, or when wood will burst into flame, is 572 degrees fahrenheit. An average fire will burn around 1500 degrees fahrenheit, but they have the potential to burn at temperatures as high as 2200 degrees fahrenheit.