HELENA — Smoke and flames returned to Mount Helena on Wednesday, but unlike the fast-moving wildfire of the summer, these fires are controlled and eliminate debris.
On Wednesday, the City of Helena crews was out burning piles of brush that dotted the side of mount Helena. Over the summer and into fall, crews thinned out trees to leave more room between them and removed branches up to 6 or 8 feet above ground level.
Crews have been waiting on good weather conditions to burn the piles and got approval this week to conduct the operation from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Brad Langsather, the City of Helena open lands manager, and his crew were ready for their first day of burning.
"So our burn season will run. Today was our first day of burning and we will be burning until the snows recede. That's usually the second or third week of march," said Langsather.
The operation is part of a larger effort this fall to clear out debris and help minimize the risk of a fire like the one this summer. Earlier in November crews conducted a burn on Mount Ascension.
This won't likely be the only burn on Mount Helena or the surrounding area. Many of the piles have accumulated over the past five or six years as part of the city's thinning and treatment of open lands, and burning could take place into 2023.
"During the winter burning period. The city requires approval from Montana DEQ, so the air quality conditions have to be conducive to conducting these prescribed burns," said Langsather.
The City of Helena's open lands division says that this will be a huge help in protecting mount Helena from future forest fires.
"Today we probably had somewhere around 400 piles that we were able to burn out there on the landscape. Thanks to the collective efforts of all our partners, the Montana DNRC, Helena Lewis and Clark national forest, tri-county fire working group, and our selected contractors," said Langsather, "We probably have over 15,000 piles assembled on the landscape out in the forest that's around Helena."