Montana homeowners work to reduce wildfire risk

Posted at 8:05 AM, Apr 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-27 10:05:35-04

HELENA – With spring in full bloom, now’s the time that homeowners think about all the projects we need to start outside.

Fire prevention experts say it’s also the time to start projects that’ll keep your home safer during the next fire season.

The sound of chainsaws and a chipper chewing up logs and branches can be heard on one property in the hills south of Helena.

“We’re spacing it out,” says Pat McKelvey of the Tri-County Fire Safe Working Group. “We’re taking the rest so to speak and leaving the best.”

As three sawyers down trees, a crew feeds a self-propelled chipper on a 21-acre project south of Helena.

“We’re doing the fire mitigation,” says property owner Deborah Rainey. “And they’re reducing our fuel load making our forest healthier.”

Rainey’s property is just a short distance from the Holmes Gulch fire last year. She’s had thinning projects on her property previously.

“During this time of cleanup, and green up kinds of campaigns we ask the people out there who live in the wildland-urban interface and have nice treed property…give us a call and maybe we have some ideas to share with you for that maintenance,” says McKelvey.

Those ideas can include an assessment of your home and property for vulnerability to fire danger.

The Tri-County Working Group can bring in professional foresters to consult with a landowner who wants to thin trees on their land. The group, through grants, share the cost of operation with landowners on a 50/50 basis.

Thinning operations makes it harder for crown fires to move across the landscape and into homes.

“We’re not looking for a moonscape,” says McKelvey. “We’re not totally clearing out a piece of ground. We are trying to mimic mother nature, we’re taking the ladder fuels out, the smaller, twisted, genetically inferior smaller regeneration trees.”

Mitigation projects through the Tri-County Fire put the property owner in the driver’s seat.

“The landowner is always in charge,” says McKelvey. “It’s their land. It’s their project. We’re just trying to help out.”

The end result creates a healthier forest and safer homes.

“Survivability of the structure. We want that to mean that it will survive a fire on its own. The reduction of intensity of a fire that would move beyond this ownership and through into another space.”

“I can see over this time that it’s produced healthier trees,” says Rainey. “And it just looks nice.”

Homeowners interested in booking an assessment from the Tr-County Fire Safe Working Group should call 422-2418.

Click here for more safety information.

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