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A look at wildfire preparedness in Missoula County

When disaster strikes, residents should be ready to respond
Wildfire Firefighter Flames
Posted at 3:23 PM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 18:17:33-04

MISSOULA — Areas of Western Montana are getting hotter and drier, leading to very high fire danger.

AAn 18-acre fire on Waterworks Hill in Missoula on Wednesday had us asking what evacuation details may have looked like if the fire had grown out of control.

MTN News checked in the Missoula Office of Emergency Management to learn more.

When a wildfire sparks near Missoula, a combination of aviation equipment, ground crews, and fire trucks are all accessible to help quickly control it.

When it comes to wildfires in Montana, it’s not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

Once disaster strikes, residents should be ready to respond, but there isn’t a playbook.

Waterworks Hill Grass Fire

“Wildfire isn’t exactly like a, it’s not like a tsunami,” explained Missoula County's Wildfire Preparedness Coordinator Max Rebholz. “You can’t just get to higher ground.”

Evacuations and the subsequent safety routes in Missoula County depend on the behavior of a fire, which can change at a moment’s notice.

“We’re pretty hesitant to have a specific plan for areas because you just don’t know where that fire is going to travel to and how the winds might shift," Rebholz said.

There’s a two-stage evacuation procedure in the County, warnings then orders, and sometimes swiftly moving fires prompt an Evacuation Order without a warning first.

“You’re better off using the real-time knowledge of ‘this is what it’s doing right now,' and then using those decisions to notify the public of what’s the safest way to get out at that time,” Rebholz said.

Missoula County Evacuation Warning
Missoula County Evacuation Order

There are a few things you can do to prepare for the possibility of a wildfire near your home.

Sign up for alerts at smart911.com and create a safety profile. This is a free service to enhance emergency preparedness.

Prepare a "Go Bag" with things you may need for up to 72 hours and put it in your vehicle.

Also, face your vehicle in the direction you would need to leave, and know an evacuation route that works for your neighborhood.

Very High Fire Danger

People who live in areas where there is only one way out should plan ahead and leave earlier.

Early self-evacuation before authorities give orders is the best way to ensure safety in case of a wildfire.

Click here for detailed information on how to prepare for the possibility of a wildfire and your risk in Missoula County.