Montana Volunteer Fire Departments seeking to increase staff for fire season

Baxendale Volunteer Fire Department seeking volunteers
Posted at 6:35 PM, Mar 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-15 20:35:06-04

HELENA — With late snowfall hitting parts of Montana, fire stations like Baxendale Volunteer Fire Department are enjoying seeing snow on the ground. While it's nice now, there is still always one thing that lingers in the back of every firefighter mind here in Montana, and that is fire season.

Fire season is not a specific season like summer, spring, autumn and winter, it's more so a term commonly used in Montana when there are exceptionally dry conditions out and it is typically seen in the warmer months.

"We could say we're in fire season right now because of this dry dead grass, but then oftentimes in the early spring, before fire season, somebody's controlled burn will wander off and then expand real fast. So then all of a sudden, we're in fire season," said Clint Loss, Chief of the Baxendale Volunteer Fire Department.

Baxendale Volunteer Fire Department Fire Danger Watch

It's a statement that our Chief Meteorologist Curtis Grevenitz has heard before.

"Through my years of forecasting here in Montana and talking to many, many firefighters, uh, they've got a line that says, you know, Montana is only ever 2 to 3 weeks away from the fire season. So yeah, that's I've found that that is true," said Grevenitz.

This year we experienced an El Nino winter, a phenomenon that can cause places like Montana to have warmer are dryer than normal conditions during the colder months, which contributed to this year's below-average snow levels.

"This was an El Nino winter, and the peak of El Nino, its strength was in November and December, and that coincided with those two really dry months here in Montana, and a lot of the west, that set us back. That's made it really hard to recover from," said Grevenitz.

El Nino is not the only factor for fire season this spring and summer, in places like where the Baxendale Volunteer Fire is located, dead grass is also a concern for wildfires to start.

"Last year was wet during the growing season, so we got quite a bit of grass, which now is quite a bit of fuel. So that makes a slight difference in it. Not a huge difference, but when you have a wet year you get more grass, which is more fuel," said Loss.

valley snowfall

For Baxednale Volunteer Fire, they are hoping that the spring months will bring in lots of rain to help out areas in the valley.

"We rely on May, and especially June, to get our traditional rains to bring on the green grass, because like I said, right now we have a lot of dry dead grass until you get some green grass in the middle of that. to dilute it. You know, like said fires can spread," said Loss.

With wildfire concerns higher than last year, Baxendale Volunteer Fire Department Captain Audrey Todd-Davis says that this is the best time to volunteer and become a firefighter. To help their communities.

"We are really understaffed here at Baxendale, as every department pretty much is. So we would love to have volunteers come and join us and we'll give you the training that you need to go out there and be with us to fight fire. This is a time of year that we need the public to come in and get involved, be with us, and do this for your community," said Loss.

Baxendale Volunteer Fire Department seeking volunteers

Right now is also a great time to prepare your home and property for the threat of wildfire, especially if you live in the wildland-urban interface.

You want to keep flammable objects like lawnmowers, propane tanks, and wood piles at least 30 feet away from your home.

Homeowners can also reach out to Tri-County Firesafe working group, which can help identify fire risks on a property and create defensible space around homes.