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New plan updates areas of Missoula County at highest risk from wildfire

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MISSOULA - A new risk map suggests the Upper Clark Fork Valley from Bonner to Clinton -- as well as areas west of Lolo -- still have a "very high" risk of burning in wildfires. 

The old adage is that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And Missoula County leaders are taking that to heart as they take the wraps off a Community Wildfire Protection Plan that's been under development for more than a year.

"This plan is a way for us to communicate what the risk, what the relative fire risk and hazard that we face in Missoula County so that we can all be more informed and make better decisions," explained Missoula County Office of Emergency Management Director Adriane Beck.

The plan is actually an update of a simpler document which was first developed in 2005 and it reflects the changes we've seen in those intervening dozen years, from development in the Wildland Urban Interface to the increasingly intense wildfires.

The information has not only been assembled in a comprehensive document but in a versatile online mapping tool that allows anyone to access the data as well as the maps which show the areas at greatest risk of wildfire. 

You might think that a lot of these projections are based on the terrible wildfire season last summer when infernos like the Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge and Rock Creek fires had Missoula surrounded by flames.

But the plan doesn't actually include that data, although it will be folded into the final version. But it shows the science behind the plan, with maps that foreshadowed the risk from both Lolo Peak and Rice Ridge.

"The fire season of 2017, while it was anticipated as part of this update, really has given this plan a lot more relevance to the community and why having a community wildfire protection plan is important," Beck said.

Outside of the specific fire risk areas the plan is part of a broader campaign to promote a much smarter, "fire wise" approach to reducing the risk, according to Beck.

"The plan is the opportunity to really give us focus as a community, but also as our primary stakeholders with the federal government, state government and local government so that we're all working towards a collaborative community goal of reducing our wildfire risk. And so in this plan -- and in this update -- there are action plans that will essentially hold us accountable for doing some of those things."

Click here to view the draft Community Wildfire Plan while the public comment period is underway. 

Public comment is welcome and encouraged and may be made by submitting written comments electronically here or by mail to 200 W. Broadway St, Missoula, MT 59802. Written comments will be collected from March 8 to April 12, 2018.

The Missoula County Commission will consider adoption of the update at a public hearing on May 24 at 2 p.m.

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