The 2020 wildfire season has the potential to be one of the most challenging since 2017, according to experts with the U.S. Forest Service.

After meeting with Governor Steve Bullock on Tuesday, Michael Richmond, Meteorologist with Predictive Services at the Northern Rockies Coordination Center spoke to KGVO News regarding the forecast for the upcoming fire season.

“We are expecting a more active season than last year,” said Richmond from his office in Missoula. “Our long-range outlook that we get from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center for the July, August, September period and even further out are predicting a warmer and drier summer overall, with above average temperatures and below average precipitation.”

Richmond said looking ahead, there is much drier weather in the next 90 to 120 days.

“We don’t see any extreme heat in the next few weeks, but we will be coming into a drier pattern starting this weekend and then continuing through next week, which will be the first time we’ve had a full week of dryness,” he said. “That will start to dry things out in earnest, and push a little bit faster into the core of our fire season.”

Richmond said even if western Montana does not see many wildfires, the smoke from distant fires will eventually make its way into the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys.

“In this area, we get smoke from wildfires much more than other areas from the west , from the southwest and the south, so the Great Basin, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho. All of that smoke tends to come in here in the circulation around the four corner high pressure ridges sit there all summer. Even if we don’t have any large fires near Missoula, the smoke from other areas will come in here, more than the last two seasons.”

Another complication is the COVID 19 virus, which will make fighting fires much more complicated due to the large number of firefighters that make up a major fire camp.