HELENA – The Lump Gulch Fire is a stark reminder that fire season is fast approaching. Lewis and Clark County, the Cities of Helena and East Helena, and Tri-County Fire Safe Working Group, in coordination with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), want to remind the public, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to do their part to reduce the risk of wildfire.
Whether you were evacuated during the North Hills Fire last year or you are a firefighter exposing yourself to great risks to protect your neighbors, Montanans all feel the impacts of longer, more severe wildfire seasons. Sixty percent of wildfires in Montana are human-caused and this year, more than any other year, we will rely on Montanans to do their part to keep fires from starting.
“It is up to all of us this fire season to take personal responsibility and do the right thing,” said Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton. “We can’t stop Mother Nature from starting fires, but we can certainly do our part to reduce the number of human-caused fires. Think about what you are doing and what the fire conditions are before you do things like setting off fireworks, have a campfire, target shoot or burn. Have ways of quickly extinguishing a fire should one start.”
Many wildfires occur in close proximity to roadways, communities, and recreational areas, which pose a considerable threat to public safety. Taking individual responsibility to reduce flammable material around homes and communities before a fire occurs can help keep property, the public, and firefighters safe. Creating a buffer between your home and trees, shrubs, or other wildland areas, is essential to improving your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. Not only does this space help slow or stop the spread of wildfire, it also provides a safe place for firefighters to defend your home if conditions allow.
“It is critically important homes and communities become fire-adapted and property owners take the time now to prepare their homes and communities for the upcoming fire season,” said City of Helena Fire Chief Ken Wood. “Simple and inexpensive mitigation actions will help keep us all safe, while reducing the burden on firefighters this fire season.”
Tri-County Fire Safe Working Group (http://tcfswg.org/) and DNRC (http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/forestry/fire-and-aviation/fire-prevention-and-preparedness) are excellent fire mitigation resources and can answer questions and provide assistance in Lewis and Clark County and the surrounding areas.
“In recent years, the Helena Unit has been experiencing fires during all months of the year, all of which have the potential for significant growth,” says Heidi Crum, Helena Unit Manager for DNRC. “That’s why we encourage people to take time right now to prepare their homes and communities for fire. Prevention is one of our best tools, and DNRC staff are willing to assist homeowners with assessments. Please contact us, we are here to help you.”
While agencies are prepared for wildland fire activity during the COVID-19 outbreak, the public will see a different approach to fire suppression according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Fire suppression organizations will be smaller in nature, and fire managers will consider new tactics to keep firefighters and communities healthy and safe.
“Agencies are ready to respond to fires in Lewis and Clark County and protect the public this fire season,” adds Dutton. “But we cannot stress enough the importance of people being prepared. Make sure your property is fire safe, have an evacuation plan should you need to leave quickly, know where to get information and listen to emergency response personnel.”
Everyone is strongly encouraged to sign up for Smart 9-1-1 to receive emergency notifications for your area. Public safety officials use Smart911 to communicate with residents for a variety of events, including wildfires. It is free to sign up and allows people to receive alerts via text message, email and voice message.
Should a fire occur, the best source of fire information is InciWeb (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov). In Lewis and Clark County, the Sheriff’s office (https://www.facebook.com/lcsomt) and Lewis and Clark Emergency Services (https://www.facebook.com/LewisandClarkCountyEmergency) Facebook pages provide local updates such as evacuations and shelter information. Lewis and Clark Public Health’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LewisandClarkHealth) provides air quality and COVID-19 updates and information. The Lewis and Clark County public information line (406-447-1605) is also updated during events with important information.