HELENA — It’s not the heart of fire season in Montana, but firefighters in the state have already responded to wildland fires.
“Pretty much every fire we’re had is because someone’s been irresponsibly burning when they shouldn’t be,” Canyon Creek Rural Fire District Chief Sam Stigman said.
Spring is a time when people clean up around their homes, get yard projects done and burn slash piles and debris.
Stigman said it is a good idea to get your home and property ready before fire danger rises in the summer.
There are mitigation steps people can take now to protect their homes from the threat of wildfires.
“Take a look around your yard, make sure you don’t have big wood piles, old dry woodpiles, stacked up against your house,” Stigman said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests clearing a 30-foot safety zone around a home.
Stigman suggested trimming trees, shrubs and grass, and cleaning up pine needles.
“If you can light a match to it, it’s got to go,” Stigman said.
But before disposing of hazards like trimmed tree branches and cut brush in a burn pile, there are things Stigman said people need to keep in mind.
First, Lewis and Clark County requires burn permits for open burning, even on private property.
Second, check the weather conditions before you burn—if it is going to be windy, Stigman suggests considering a different day to burn.
“If it’s going to be windy at all, even a 5- to 7-mile-per-hour wind can carry things very quickly in this environment,” Stigman said.
Prepare a safe burning area. Stigman advised burning at least 50-yards away from a house in an area clear of long grass and shrubs.
Make sure you have the proper tools on hand before you burn -- like shovels and a steady supply of water.
Finally, always keep an eye on the fire.
“Our job is not to manage your fires,” Stigman said. “It’s your responsibility to keep that fire under control.”
The US Fire Administration reports nearly 84% of fire departments in Montana are volunteer.
Volunteer firefighters often responders to incidents from home or work, which Stigman said means response times can be upwards of 20 minutes -- a lot of time for an out-of-control fire to grow.
“When you start a big fire, and it gets out of control, you’re taking time away from our lives, time we can’t ever get back,” Stigman said.
While spring is a good time to mitigate fire hazards around the home, be careful not to accidentally start a wildfire in the process.