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State agencies brief Governor Bullock on summer wildfire outlook

Posted at 9:31 PM, Jun 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 14:32:42-04

HELENA – Meteorologists are raising concerns about Montana’s upcoming fire season. At an annual wildfire briefing in Helena Thursday, Governor Steve Bullock received updates from state agencies and forecasters about what lies ahead.

Michael Richmond, a meteorologist with the Northern Rockies Coordination Center, told the governor he expects an above average fire season due to weather patterns that will bring a warm, dry summer.

To determine the severity of the fire season, Richmond and others look at forest fuel availability, how dry the environment is and how much moisture is predicted in the forecast.

Richmond said the fire season could also be longer than last year, extending into September and even early October. While Montana hasn’t seen any major fires yet, Richmond expects fire activity to pick up late July.

Meanwhile, a slew of state agencies are preparing their departments to battle any blazes. Mike DeGrosky, Chief with the Fire and Aviation Bureau of Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said seasonal personnel have been hired and are beginning training with live fire. DNRC is also performing preseason readiness checks on ground-based equipment and aircraft. Firefighting helicopters are ready to go in Helena, Kalispell and Missoula with two other helicopters on standby.

“I feel like we are quite ready,” DeGrosky said.

Other agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service are making similar preparations.

Governor Bullock said the state has also secured a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) to train the National Guard to fight fires if need be, rather than just providing security. With regard to the costs for fighting potential fires, Bullock said he’ll do whatever it takes.

“We will continue to do everything we can to protect the safety of firefighters, safety of Montanans and personal property. I certainly hope we don’t have a fire season like we did last year but if we do, we will rise to the challenge and we will figure it out,” Bullock said.