In the last two weeks, Flathead National Forest and other local firefighting agencies have responded to multiple human-caused wildland fires across Flathead Valley.
As part of Wildfire Awareness Month which occurs every year in May, the Forest is asking the public to take significant steps to reduce wildfire risks around their property and during recreation activities. Now more than ever, it is essential that everyone do their part to prevent human-caused wildfires and prepare their homes and property for the summer.
“Many people aren’t thinking about summer wildfires yet,” said Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele. “Everyone can help to reduce the risk to firefighters and our communities by creating defensible space on private property. Don’t wait until the heat of summer for extensive yardwork or to prepare your family’s emergency plan.”
Flathead National Forest is also preparing to manage the wildfire season considering COVID-19 precautions.
Every wildfire response will be based on a careful evaluation of human safety and risk to other important values to ensure smart decisions are made when deciding how to attack each fire.
Preventing the spread of COVID-19 among first responders and communities is an important addition to the Forest’s focus on safety this year.
Social distancing among firefighters wherever possible, spreading out fire camps, issuing Personal Protective Equipment such as masks and gloves, and screening and testing firefighters are among the considerations built into this year’s firefighting plans.
All firefighting agencies are working together with federal, state, county, local, and tribal partners to be ready to respond and are implementing plans to have more airtankers and helicopters available to support initial attack and major wildfires.
Aggressive initial attack, supported by available airtankers and helicopters, will be used wherever possible to extinguish wildfires quickly and minimize the need to bring large numbers of firefighters together.
For larger fires that could not be stopped during initial attack, gathering and supporting large numbers of firefighters into compact fire camps may not be practical for this fire year. Most firefighting efforts will be in small groups and dispersed into isolated camps to provide firefighters and the public better social distancing and safety from spread of COVID-19.
“The most important thing members of the public can do to help during the 2020 fire year is to do their part to prevent human-caused fires,” said Steele. “Every response to a human-caused fire uses our limited resources and exposes our firefighters.”
People can learn more about tips for creating defensible space around their homes at FireSafe Flathead. If people plan on burning brush piles, they can learn more about how to burn most effectively and obtain a permit from the state of Montana here.
Based on national long-term weather forecasts and expected dry conditions, 2020 is projected to be a higher than average year for wildland fire. The Forest’s primary goal will be protecting life and property from wildfire while providing for public health and safety.