Montana’s fire season preparations underway, officials report

May 10, 2024
trees burned by wildfire

Montana gears up for wildfire season amid recent snowfalls

Helena, Montana witnessed a rare snowfall this Wednesday, yet the state’s wildfire season looms on the horizon.

State, federal, and local leaders convened in Helena for Governor Greg Gianforte’s annual fire season briefing as reported by KTVH.

The briefing took place at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s (DNRC) fire aviation support hangar located at Helena Regional Airport.

State fire officials discuss preparations and staffing

During the briefing, Matt Hall, chief of DNRC’s Fire Protection Bureau, highlighted the department’s efforts to bolster its firefighting workforce.

“We plan to hire just over 100 seasonal firefighters this year,” Hall revealed.

These firefighters are set to receive an entry-level wage of $19.05, an increase attributed to the new state employee pay plan.

Hall also mentioned, “I know we have a number of open fire jobs still posted today, but anticipate over the course of the next few weeks filling those positions fully with all of our seasonal staffing.”

Enhanced resources and inter-agency cooperation

The DNRC is not only increasing its staffing but also its hardware.

“We’ve built 14 new wildfire engines this year,” Hall said, noting that these are being distributed across multiple counties including Beaverhead, Blaine, and Cascade.

Additionally, plans are in place to contract for another “Type 1” heavy helicopter, capable of carrying approximately 2,000 gallons of water, to aid in firefighting efforts.

Federal collaboration and long-term strategies

Partnerships and collaboration were themes echoed by Tim Garcia, deputy regional forester for the U.S.

Forest Service’s Northern Region.

Garcia emphasized the importance of trust and relationships with state DNRC partners through initiatives like the Good Neighbor Authority forest management projects.

“That foundationally is based on and built on the trust and the relationships that we have with our state DNRC partners,” Garcia said.

He also expressed optimism about meeting their firefighter staffing goals despite the ongoing housing cost challenges.

State’s readiness for an unpredictable fire season

The uncertainty of the upcoming fire season was a sentiment shared by Adriane Beck, director of Missoula County’s Office of Emergency Management.

“People always say, ‘Well, what’s the fire season going to look like?’ And we oftentimes say, ‘Well, we’ll tell you in October,’” Beck explained.

She assured that the counties are well-prepared, regardless of the challenges the fire season may present.

FSJA Comment

The annual fire season briefing in Helena highlights Montana’s proactive approach towards wildfire management and preparedness.

This gathering of state, federal, and local authorities underscores a collaborative effort to enhance wildfire readiness and resource availability.

The strategic enhancements in staffing and equipment, coupled with ongoing federal collaborations, indicate a robust framework aimed at mitigating the impacts of wildfires across the state.

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