After what has been a real Montana-style winter with lots of snow and bitter cold, the first signs of spring are appearing, the start of Grizzly football spring drills, and open burning season.

The Grizzly football spring practices are still a few weeks away, but open burning season in Missoula County has officially begun. Public Relations Specialist with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Jordan Koppen, said permits will be available starting March 1.

Koppen said his goal this spring is to encourage homeowners in the wildland urban interface to begin clearing away flammable materials from occupied structures, to avoid a repeat of last summer's Roaring Lion Fire, and other smaller blazes, with a special emphasis on the Grant Creek area, which was hit hard by small fires.

"We just want people to burn off all that debris around their homes," Koppen said. "We're really focusing on the 'home ignition zones' this year. I'm trying to get homeowners to contact me so I can come out and do a home visit, so that if you live out in the woods I can tell you what your risks are for fire."

Koppen said any local or rural fire department, the U.S. Forest Service or the DNRC will do a home visit.

"And, it's free," Koppen said. "14 of the 16 structures that burned in the Roaring Lion fire last year were from low intensity fire, meaning these firebrands or embers were just flying around, and they landed in these built-up fuels, and eventually ignited the homes."

Koppen gave his officer number as 406-542-4321. He said that he would personally come to any property in the wildland urban interface and do a free inspection, or send a qualified fire prevention expert.

Open burning permits are available here. Before lighting the fire, the permit must be activated online or by calling 1-888-583-6497 after 9:00 a.m. on the day of the burn.