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Flathead National Forest prepares for 2020 fire season

May marks Wildfire Awareness Month
Evacuation warning issued for wildfire near Essex
Posted at 8:49 AM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 10:49:37-04

KALISPELL — Flathead National Forest and other local firefighting agencies have responded to multiple human-caused wildland fires across Flathead Valley in the past two weeks.

Forest officials are asking the public to take significant steps to reduce wildfire risks around their property and during recreation activities as part of Wildfire Awareness Month.

“Many people aren’t thinking about summer wildfires yet,” said Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele. “Everyone can help to reduce the risk to firefighters and our communities by creating defensible space on private property. Don’t wait until the heat of summer for extensive yard work or to prepare your family’s emergency plan.”

The Flathead National Forest is also preparing to manage the wildfire season considering COVID-19 precautions.

Every wildfire response will be based on a careful evaluation of human safety and risk to other important values to ensure smart decisions are made when deciding how to attack each fire, according to a news release.

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 among first responders and communities is an important addition to the Forest’s focus on safety this year.

Social distancing among firefighters wherever possible, spreading out fire camps, issuing Personal Protective Equipment such as masks and gloves, and screening and testing firefighters are among the considerations built into this year’s firefighting plans.

All firefighting agencies are working together with federal, state, county, local, and tribal partners to be ready to respond and are implementing plans to have more airtankers and helicopters available to support initial attack and major wildfires.

Aggressive initial attack, supported by available airtankers and helicopters, will be used wherever possible to extinguish wildfires quickly and minimize the need to bring large numbers of firefighters together.

Most firefighting efforts on larger fires will be done in small groups and dispersed into isolated camps to provide firefighters and the public better social distancing and safety from spread of COVID-19.

“The most important thing members of the public can do to help during the 2020 fire year is to do their part to prevent human-caused fires,” said Steele. “Every response to a human-caused fire uses our limited resources and exposes our firefighters.”

Click here to learn more about tips for creating defensible space around homes. Flathead National Forest officials note that based on national long-term weather forecasts and expected dry conditions, 2020 is projected to be a higher than average year for wildfires in Montana.