(HELENA) A local nonprofit will be able to help more homeowners in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater and Jefferson Counties protect themselves from wildfires, thanks to an additional federal grant.

The Tri-County Fire Safe Working Group has received $50,000 from the Bureau of Land Management. It comes after the group got a larger grant from the BLM earlier this year.

Executive director Ray Prill said the agency contacted him on Sept. 1 and told him he had just a few days to apply for the extra funding. Susan Good Geise, chair of the Lewis and Clark County Commission, gave initial approval to that application in order to meet the deadline. The commissioners officially signed off on the grant at their meeting Tuesday morning.

Tri-County Fire Safe works with homeowners living in the “wildland-urban interface,” areas on the edge of communities that are at higher risk for wildfires. The group will assess how owners can reduce fuels around their property at no cost to them. If they decide to move forward with fuel mitigation work, the group will cover about half of the costs.

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Prill said the group currently has about $350,000 for mitigation work, which will fund up to $700,000 in projects. He said the latest BLM grant will be enough to fund fuel reduction on about 50 acres of land.

Prill said he expects more homeowners to take advantage of Tri-County’s services in the coming years. He said fires like the Roaring Lion Fire, which burned more than 8,000 acres near Hamilton last year, have shown how important this type of mitigation work is.

“It was obvious that a lot of homes were saved that wouldn’t have been saved if the mitigation hadn’t been done, and that was a very hot fire, a very fast fire, a very dangerous fire,” said Prill. “It proved hands down that mitigation saved structures.”

Geise also stressed the importance of creating safer spaces around a home.

“When firefighters come to defend a home or structure, they will take a look,” she said. “People who have made an effort to make a defensible space – at least they’ll have a fighting chance and it gives them a little bit of time to be able to suppress that fire, so they will invest their time and their resources and take that risk.”