HELENA – Dozens of people gathered in Helena Thursday afternoon to honor a local man who received national recognition for his work to prevent wildfires in the community.
Pat McKelvey, project manager with the Tri-County FireSafe Working Group was one of nine people to receive the 2018 National Wildfire Mitigation Award. He was presented with his award in a ceremony at the Montana State Capitol.
McKelvey said he was familiar with the awards, but didn’t expect one for himself.
“To receive one here in Helena, Montana, was a nice pleasant surprise,” he said.
McKelvey has spent several decades working on fuel mitigation and fire suppression in the Helena area. He said he sees this award as a recognition of the progress the entire Tri-County group has made toward improving fire safety in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater Counties.
“We have been able to identify where we needed to go with projects, how to get them done, have funding from our partners, and promote that all throughout the public and the private landscape,” he said.
State, county and city leaders were in attendance for the ceremony, along with a number of local fire chiefs and others who have worked with McKelvey over the years.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said McKelvey has helped influence laws, encouraging elected leaders to be proactive instead of reactive in addressing wildfires.
“Some of you really is in this book,” Dutton said, referring to the Montana state code.
Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen read a proclamation, recognizing Jan. 25 as “Pat McKelvey Day.” It also officially opened the 2018 “wildfire mitigation season” – which will run from Jan. 25, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019, in honor of McKelvey’s philosophy that landowners should think about how to improve fire safety on their property throughout the year.
“We don’t want folks to be doing the mitigation when the smoke is mountain or the fire is above their house,” said McKelvey. “That’s a little bit too late.”
Sonny Steiger, a former fire chief and Tri-County working group leader, told the audience more than 1,600 homes in the Helena area underwent fire mitigation work between 2000 and 2017, in part because of McKelvey’s efforts. He said that included fuel reduction on 4,500 acres and improvements on 17 miles of primary evacuation routes.
The Wildfire Mitigation Awards are sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Forest Service.