HELENA — Lewis and Clark County residents could get help to reduce the fire risk on their property, thanks to a federal grant.
After this summer’s North Hills Fire, leaders say the county is eligible for up to $450,000 in assistance.
“We have roughly half a million dollars in FEMA money that gets awarded after there’s a disaster, to help prevent future disasters,” said Tri-Lakes Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Drake.
The money is available to help property owners create defensible space around their homes, reduce hazard fuels on the rest of their property, add ignition-resistant materials to buildings or protect against erosion and flooding in areas that burned.
Property owners must file an application by Dec. 31 to be considered for funding. Assessors will then determine whether a project is eligible and how much it will receive.
The number of approved projects will determine how much money the county receives.
“All the money we can show we can spend for the designated purpose, we get,” Drake said.
The grants will cover up to 75% of the costs of fire mitigation work. Property owners must match the remaining amount, either in cash or by helping with the work.
There will be a public meeting Thursday at 7 p.m., at Tri-Lakes VFD’s Lakeside Fire Station, off York Road across from the Lakeside Bar. Experts will be on hand to help property owners determine whether they could have eligible projects and to assist them with the application process.
Drake said the mitigation projects would not be one-size-fits-all. Rather, they would be tailored to each property and to meet each owner’s specific needs.
“There’s ways to make this work, that everyone can get what they want and still lower the risk of wildfire,” he said.
Tri-Lakes VFD played a large role in defending structures during the North Hills Fire. Drake said it was clear while fighting the fire that mitigation work can make a big difference. For example, fuel thinning done the previous season allowed them to safely set a backfire, to keep the main fire away from a neighborhood.
“If that work hadn’t been done, that wouldn’t have been an option,” he said.
In another case, Drake said the fire burned all around a home, but the structure itself survived because of mitigation work.
“It isn’t just ‘save your house,’ it’s ‘save where you live, and why you live there,’” he said. “That’s what this grant stuff is going to allow us to do, and we’ve got enough money to make a difference.”
Tri-County FireSafe Working Group has an application for property owners interested in seeking grant funding. You can get it by contacting the working group. A link is also available on the Tri-Lakes VFD website.
Drake said there will be another public meeting about the grant opportunities Nov. 21 at the Tri-Lakes fire station on Spokane Creek Road. He said, if there is enough interest, they may hold a third meeting this month.