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Although rain is in the forecast, Jefferson County’s fire warden Pat McKelvey closed open burning t here Thursday and the Helena National Forest said the fire danger ranges between “high” and “very high.”

The lack of precipitation during what usually is one of the wettest times of year prompted McKelvey to close burning, but he expects to re-evaluate that decision Friday.

“Everybody is watching the temperatures, humidity and wind speeds,” McKelvey said. “But just visually, look at the greenness – it’s May but it looks like September. While the hills are greening up good, there’s still a brownness to them. So I figured we’ll close burning for a couple of days and see if we do get some rain.”

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said he didn’t see the need for halting burning in this county, but he’ll continue to assess the situation.

Forecasts are calling for an increasing chance of rain in the next few days. However, forecasters are also saying that lightning may accompany it, which puts McKelvey further on edge.

“If we start getting a lot of convection with lightning and not a lot of wetting rain, then we are off to the elections,” McKelvey said. “But the long-range (weather) models into June are showing we will get wet again. The seasonal fire prediction for theNorthern Rockiescompares to 2006, which was an average fire season.”

John Grassy, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said agency staffers are also keeping a close watch on the weather. DNRC personnel provide the initial response to reports of wildfires.

“We’re definitely drier than normal in the Helena region, but not near the critical stage,” Grassy said. “But we’re heading into the Memorial Day weekend and there’s lots of dry fuel on the ground left over from last season, so we hope people are careful with their campfires.”

He added that the soil moisture in the Helena region is in good shape compared to the drought years of 2000 through 2007.

“So the vegetation is not as stressed out as it was then,” Grassy said. “And the National Weather Service is predicting about half an inch of rain in this region, and cooler temperatures next week; the thinking right now is to prepare for a weather change.”

While year-to-date precipitation levels in the Helena-area are above last-year levels, April saw below normal precipitation and so far in May, precipitation had totaled just .12 inches as of Wednesday, compared with the normal level of .78 inches.

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