SEELEY LAKE – It was a long summer in Seeley Lake, as the Rice Ridge Fire filled the air with smoke and sparked multiple evacuation orders in August and September of 2017.
During a Wednesday night community meeting, representatives of many of the agencies involved with working that fire came back to answer residents questions and give more information on the decisions that were made throughout the course of the fire.
The extreme fire conditions that defined summer 2017’s fire season also set apart some moments — and decisions that were made — during the course of the volatile 160,000 acre Rice Ridge Fire.
The Seeley Lake Elementary School multi-purpose room was packed with people who lived through it.
“There was a lot of questions about the fire, it was a very major event over what did they say, 72 days in length. And a lot of the information on a fire this size is not necessarily readily available to the community,” said Clearwater Resource Council president Jon Haufler.
“So it was an opportunity to get all the experts together and make sure the factual information about what was involved with this fire was presented to the community. And at the same time, allow them to ask some questions back that they may have about what occurred,” he added.
Seeley Lake resident Kurt McChesney attended Rice Ridge Fire meetings throughout the summer. “There would probably be, 75 to 100 to 125 people in the gym, so it was pretty cool though to see a lot of those same people back here again.”
Alyssa McLean and was evacuated for five weeks this summer, “I was surprised that the questions were mild in nature and not really angry, and I think that is because the presentation was very thorough and informative.”
Panelists from Lolo National Forest, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office — which was responsible for evacuations — presented information that put the blaze in the context of available resources, and surrounding fire.
One of the key topics was how Seeley Lake can move forward to become a better fire-adaptive community.
Fire Safe Montana materials that explain how homeowners can make choices on everything from roofing and landscaping to protect their properties in the wildland-urban interface were also available to residents.
Reporting by Augusta McDonnell for MTN News