Flathead Hotshots return from fighting Canadian wildfire

Posted at 11:25 AM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-25 13:25:32-04

KALISPELL – The Flathead Hotshots have returned home after fighting the 800,000-acre Chuckegg Fire in Alberta, Canada.

Squad leader Matt Delaney, who has been with the Flathead Hotshots crew for seven years, told MTN News Alberta is in a three-year drought, which is partially the cause of the Canadian wildfire.

“Particularly, that northern part of Alberta is a three-year drought, so it’s significant. It’s noticeable. We were in areas that normally where you’d have soggy feet walking in and it was dry,” explained Delaney.

Hotshot crews have a special job as they hand dig fire lines and move water hoses up to 15 hours a day. Shale Pagel, who has been with the Flathead Hotshots for three years, said the daily grind is exhausting.

“The cumulative fatigue of consecutive assignments back-to-back builds up and no matter how much rest you get, it’s hard to shake it off,” Pagel said.

The bigger question is could Montana see a fire as large as Chuckegg this year?

Flathead Hotshots Superintendent Shawn Borgen said Montana has been lucky with the weather so far. The wet, cool and humid, rainy weather the Flathead has seen helps prep for fire season.

Borgen told MTN News the state needs to see that kind of weather consistently in order to maintain a “low” to “average” fire season.

“This year that dryness is affecting that part of the continent, that latitude. The moisture they would usually get this time of year has shifted south because of the movement of the jet stream and other factors so that moisture is coming in across the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies right now,” explained Borgen.

Unfortunately, Borgen said Montana could see a lot of smoke from the Chuckegg fire this summer.

“No one can control the way the wind blows. So, you know, we could very well be dealing with smoke from Canada a lot this summer.”

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality reported the state’s current air quality is good. You can check out the latest air quality readings here.

-Reported by Maren Siu/MTN News