MISSOULA – Fire season is just around the corner, and Western Montana is looking for new ways to adapt.
City Club Missoula hosted its monthly panel on Monday where fire experts discussed reducing the risk of wildfires in the coming months.
“There’s several things we know: We live in a landscape shaped by fire, and that’s not going to change. We live in an area affected by smoke, and that’s not going to change,” said moderator Karen DiBari.
The US Forest Service, the Missoula Ranger District and Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier say they are collaborating on a project called “Wildfire-Adapted Missoula,” to tackle the reality of fire season.
“This is not fireproofing, and this isn’t necessarily going to reduce the occurrence. What we’re really interested in is reducing some of that intensity,” said Missoula District Ranger Jen Hensiek.
Hensiek also said her unit responds to 30-to-100 fires in any given year.
“I think it’s important for us to understand how and why those happen and what we can do to reduce those risks.”
She says cleaning up around property and doing work on the national forest can help mitigate impacts.
Some 100,000 acres burned around Missoula last year, and the year before that, 1.5 million acres. Those 2017 fires cost $74 million to suppress.
Missoula County has created a neighborhood ambassador program for high-risk areas.
Representatives from the Rattlesnake, Grant Creek and Pattee Canyon are working with fire experts on solutions to specific challenges facing their neighborhoods.
Strohmaier said it is also looking at changes to zoning regulations and building codes.
“This is in recognition that, unless we take steps to mitigate fire and the effects of fire in the wildlife-urban interface, we could very well face some of the same tragedies that we saw play out nationally,” Strohmaier said.
The DNRC is forecasting for a “normal” fire season in Montana this year, except in northwest Montana, where the weather has been much drier and the fire danger will be higher.
The DNRC hired and trained 150 seasonal firefighters and the state has allocated $38 million for fire season.