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Lightning strikes the Mission Range near Polson as a summer storm rolls through the Flathead Valley over the Fourth of July weekend. At least nine small wildfires were started by lightning in the Lolo National Forest since those weekend storms.

Last weekend’s lightning strikes could smolder into new forest fire starts as temperatures move back toward the 90s in the next few days.

“We are expecting activity to increase later on in the week and through the weekend as warm and dry weather is forecasted and fuel moisture levels will likely begin to dry as a result," Lolo National Forest spokeswoman Kate Jerman said on Wednesday. “With the wave of warm and dry weather, we are asking folks to remain cautious as they head into their weekend recreation activities out on the forest.”

So far around Missoula, at least 27 forest fires have been reported. Jerman said nine of those were lightning-caused. None caused notable damage.

In the Bitterroot over the July 4 holiday weekend, sometimes-violent storms that brought hail, heavy winds and a good drenching for some areas also ignited seven small fires that kept Bitterroot National Forest firefighters on the alert.

Bitterroot Forest spokesman Tod McKay said Tuesday that firefighters responded to seven lightning-caused fires since July 4, scattered from one end of the forest to the other. All of them were small, and by Tuesday had either been extinguished or were being mopped up.

There have been a total of 23 wildfires on the Bitterroot National Forest this year. Eight were human-caused from unattended campfires and the remaining 15 started due to lightning, McKay said.

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The National Weather Service office in Missoula has issued thunderstorm warnings for Saturday across most of southwest Montana from Missoula to Monida. The storms are most likely Saturday afternoon and evening, and may include small hail and gusty winds. A line of moisture blowing from Salmon, Idaho, to Butte could also bring strong storms.

Strategies for reducing wildfire risk around people’s homes will be displayed at three public workshops The meetings take place:

  • Thursday, July 11 — Missoula Rural District Fire Station 2 (6550 US Highway 10 W., Missoula) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 23 — Pattee Canyon Picnic Area, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wear attire suitable for standing outdoors. The site visit offers a chance to see an on-going forest treatment project that aims to reduce the canyon’s vulnerability to fire. Forest Service staff will describe the work and its impact, as well as answer questions.
  • Wednesday, July 31 — Missoula Rural District Fire Station 1 (2521 South Ave. W., Missoula) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Ravalli Republic reporter Perry Backus contributed to this story.

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