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Top wildfire preparedness level declared in Montana - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Top wildfire preparedness level declared in Montana

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The Rice Ridge fire in Seeley Lake is one of the top concerns of firefighters. (MTN News photo) The Rice Ridge fire in Seeley Lake is one of the top concerns of firefighters. (MTN News photo)
Fire managers are working to get ahead of expected critical fire danger. (MTN News photo) Fire managers are working to get ahead of expected critical fire danger. (MTN News photo)
I'm going to tell ya, every airplane, every helicopter, every Guard unit is being utilized to the max," Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said. (MTN News photo) I'm going to tell ya, every airplane, every helicopter, every Guard unit is being utilized to the max," Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said. (MTN News photo)
SEELEY LAKE -

Across the Northern Rockies,fire managers are preparing fora storm system to move through in the next few days.

The coming storm system has people worried about wind kicking up already burning fires, and the potential for new starts due to lighting. Regional managers just notched up their preparedness level to get ready for what might happen over the weekend.

The Northern Rockies Coordination Center took steps Thursday to get ahead of critical fire weather, bumping from preparedness level four to level five.

"That is based on a number of factors, the number of large fires on the ground, and the potential for some critical weather starting today, through the weekend," Fire Management Information Specialist Christine Schuldheisz.

She says resources are ready to jump on any new fire activity, "when we go to preparedness level five, it doesn't really change anything on the ground, as a geographic area, it just heightens the state of readiness," Schuldheisz said.

"As far as the fires on the Lolo National Forest, they have the resources, they have the teams in place, if they need resources, we can move resources around from different fires, bring resources in from other geographical areas," she added.

The severity of the situation at the Rice Ridge Fire has the attention of Montana's lawmakers, who are making sure the area is getting enough ofthe nation's strapped resources.

"Over the last week I have given calls into the Forest Service to see what kind of assets are out there, to be able to move more assets into Montana, and I'm going to tell ya, every airplane, every helicopter, every Guard unit is being utilized to the max," Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said.

Sen. Tester says this year's fire season is cause to take a hard look at how forests are managed.

"I think it speaks to the intensity of a forest that has a lot of dead trees in it and a climate that is changing, where our fire season is getting longer and more intense every year," Sen. Tester said.

The last time the Northern Rockies were at this top tier preparedness level five was in mid-August of 2015. The air quality in Seeley Lake was listed as Hazardous again on Thursday morning with local health officials urging residents to leave the area because of the continued poor air quality.

The Seeley Lake Community Council meeting scheduled for Aug. 14 has been canceled due to air quality.

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