MISSOULA — Following a "full stop" during the pandemic lockdowns, Missoula-area firefighters are back in the field, helping property owners be "fire safe", and getting local assessments to help them in case of a big fire season.
It's a scene we're all too familiar with -- the forests around Missoula erupting into walls of flame. But before that battle starts, firefighters from all the local agencies are out right now, advising homeowners to improve their "defensible space", while conducting classes for themselves.
Missoula Rural Fire District Firefighter-EMT Taylor Blakely welcomes the chance to get into the field.
"It's good to get the students out and meeting people and they have that interaction with homeowners. They can point out some things to the homeowners that they could work on, 'weekend warrior' type stuff to give their home a chance. But it also gives the students the ability to look at an area and think what would I do If I was responding to this with a wildland fire?"
They say it's the small steps that make a difference.
"It's a fire year now, not a fire season, so every little thing we can do to make it easier for both responders and homeowners when there is smoke in the air is better," Blakely explained. "Anything from as small as raking out some pine needles or clearing a gutter to actually implementing some true defensible space and pulling junipers or cutting down some regen, some smaller young trees to give some defensible space on your property. Anything we can do preseason is better in the long run."
The big concern is neighborhoods like this one are "ember storms". During big fires like Lolo Peak in 2017, debris can be carried miles away, "and we're losing them a mile away. We're losing them after the flame front has passed," Blakely said.
Blakely pointed out the smaller details during the tour of one home, noting the lawn furniture could be moved off the porch if a fire starts nearby.
And even inside a well-groomed juniper, showing the other firefighters how dry it can be, even with this week's rains. "Even though it looks nice and green on the top, yeah inside it's going to be dry. So we just had a ½" of rain and that's dry as a bone."
It's not just the neighborhood assessments as fire departments are doing more to help homeowners make their properties, even more, fire safe.
"Or whether they don't have the time, we're all busy, or they're elderly or disabled, or they just don't know how to go about creating the defensible space we have those resources available," Blakely pointed out. "MCFP website is a great one-stop shop to find those kind of things. You can always call your fire department of your local fire district. Talk to someone about those programs that are available."