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Bullock, fire officials: Fire outlook moderate, but hotter weather calls for caution

Posted: 6:42 PM, Jul 29, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-29 20:42:14-04

HELENA — Montana’s wildfire outlook remains relatively moderate this year, fire officials and Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday — although they urged residents to take precautions as the weather enters a hot, dry period in the coming weeks.

“We are hitting that point where we’re going to see significant changes in both the moisture out there and the potential for fires, so if people are out recreating and enjoying themselves, be darn careful,” Bullock said at a fire briefing at the Capitol.

The state’s top fire officer also said the state is well-prepared to deploy firefighting personnel when needed, and doesn’t anticipate any problems getting federal help as well.

“I feel pretty confident about having our people in the right place at this time,” said Mike DeGrosky, chief of the state Fire Protection Bureau in the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Bullock got a briefing Monday from DeGrosky and other state lands officials on the status of major wildfires in the state, fire conditions and firefighting personnel.

Four major fires are burning in Montana, and two are partly contained and “winding down,” DeGrosky said — the Moss Ranch blaze southeast of Ronan and another fire near Bannack, in southwest Montana.

The two most active fires are the Beeskove Fire north of Missoula, which DeGrosky said is on a “seriously tough piece of ground” and likely will burn for the rest of the fire season, and the North Hills Fire northeast of Helena.

The North Hills Fire has threatened homes in the area and about 500 people have been advised to evacuate. On Monday, a Type 2 interagency firefighting team was assigned to the 4,200-acre fire, which has been fought primarily by local fire departments and the state.

Bullock said homeowners near fires and in wooded areas need to be prepared, and follow the advice of firefighting crews and officials.

“I hope when people are hearing these evacuation orders, they’ll take heed,” he said. “Not only can this cause significant challenges to individuals’ lives, but it can also preclude firefighters from getting in. …

“(And) if you haven’t thought about mitigation measures around your household, it’s time to be doing so.”