Wildfire

An arial shot of the Australian bushfires.
Luca Parmitano/ESA_events / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

A handful of Montana wildland firefighters are helping fight the historic bushfires in Australia, which have burned over 12 million acres, destroyed over 2,000 homes and killed at least 24 people. 

The federal Bureau of Land Management issued new guidance Thursday for reducing wildfire risks along powerline rights-of-way on some public lands.

Montana U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and U.S. Agriculture Department Undersecretary Jim Hubbard spearheaded a roundtable this week in Missoula focused on forest and wildland fire policy.

Gianforte called for greater collaboration among stakeholders. Some stakeholders, however, were noticeably absent from the event.

It’s fall and that means it’s prescribed fire season in Montana. Wildland managers are now intentionally setting fires to reduce forest fuel buildup or to restore native vegetation.

Two prescribed wildfire operations just north of Missoula produced dense smoke that degraded air quality to unhealthy levels Wednesday night into Thursday morning. As weather forecasters predicted though, a cold front pushed into the region Thursday afternoon, increasing winds which helped dissipate the smoke.

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As fire season winds down, managers are intentionally setting fire to brush piles, slash and even large sections of forests in an effort to prevent out of control wildfires in future seasons. A group of scientists from Montana and Idaho recently published a paper arguing that strategies like these should be part of a radical rethinking of how people in the West live with fire.

Consistently wet weather this month and the expected snowstorm this weekend are dampening fire managers’ hopes for large prescribed burns in the Flathead Valley this fall. Managers may have to wait until next season for some projects.

Two trends are converging in large wildland states like Montana — more frequent and severe wildfires and rapid home development in wildfire prone areas. A conference this week examined how homes burn and how to protect them.

Montana’s firefighting fund is in good shape moving into the end of the year, according to the state budget director.

Tom Livers, director of the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning told the Legislative Finance Committee Tuesday that this and last years’ mild fire seasons have swelled the state’s firefighting savings account.

A new state revenue update says Montana’s rainy day and firefighting funds are looking flush as more money is coming in than projected. But a report from legislative researchers indicates the recent cashflow spike could be a temporary blip.

After a tame fire season, the Flathead National Forest hopes to spark a number of prescribed burns in the coming weeks, but rain could limit how much work fire managers get done.

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