Outlook Good for Calm Fire Season

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The wildfire season is looking like it will be much easier on Montana than last year, fire managers told Gov. Brian Schweitzer Monday.

Strong mountain snowpack and cool, wet spring weather are combining to put the state in a far better position than last year when fires plagued much of the state during a hot summer, taxing resources.

Fire managers with state and federal agencies are preparing for a more normal fire season — a departure from recent years where fires continued to get larger and more expensive.

“We made some real hay with the snowpack and the moisture,” said Mike Kreyenhagen, a meteorologist with the Northern Rockies Coordination Center. “We’re in much better shape.”

Schweitzer, though, said that conditions could change quickly with just a few weeks of hot and dry weather. Still, he called the report “pretty good news.”

More than 1,700 wildfires raged around the state last year, burning about 740,000 acres. The cost surpassed $100 million for the first time in years, and forced the Legislature to convene a special session in September to pay the bills.

The lawmakers put aside more money for fires in future years and also began looking at ways to mitigate the problem.

Schweitzer said Monday that state and local agencies need to remind homeowners they are most responsible for protecting their homes by creating a “defensible space” around houses. He also said local decision makers need to be more cognizant of placing restrictions on homes and subdivisions built in the woods.

When a fire strikes, firefighters will focus on the houses that can be saved, and will be forced to ignore those built in places difficult to protect, Schweitzer said.

“We will do our level best to protect as many homes as possible,” Schweitzer said. “we won’t ask firefighters to risk their lives to protect houses. We just won’t.”

Schweitzer said the state would also like to see the U.S. Forest Service log more trees in burn areas.

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