Wildland fire officials bumped up the fire danger to "very high" in Missoula County on Monday morning.

And the fire danger on Lolo National Forest lands west of Missoula is now classified as "extreme."

"Recent days have seen temperatures in the 90s and grasses continuing to cure," explained Chris Johnson, of the Missoula County Fire Protection Association. "The fine dead fuel is the primary carrier of fire in the wildland,and when fires get established in this fuel type they spread out of control rapidly."

Johnson said multiple grass fires have escaped initial attack in the past week, and some have moved into the forest at a high rate of speed.

"All fuels, both live and dead, have dried to the point that fires will quickly spread out of the control of initial attack resources," Johnson said. "We can't afford anyone to be careless during activities that have the potential to start a fire; dry lightning and high winds are in the immediate forecast, and firefighters will be busy with lightning-caused fires."

Firefighters need the public's help.

Outdoor debris burning already was closed, but firefighters continue to respond to debris fires across the county, Johnson said. "Missoula County residents need to know that our wildland firefighters face a long, arduous fire season even without having to respond to human-caused fires. The more careful we are, the less danger our first responders will face."

Editor Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5250 or at sdevlin@missoulian.com.

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