HELENA — Authorities in Lewis and Clark County are asking people to be responsible when recreating in Helena’s North Hills, after they’ve seen a series of small fires and other damage.
“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve noticed an increase in activity here in the North Hills,” said Sheriff Leo Dutton.
Dutton said volunteer firefighters have had to respond six times in the last two weeks to campfires that were left unattended. He said it appeared many of the fires were from people burning wooden pallets, and they believe some of them were from young people holding parties.
Dutton said several of the fires escaped into nearby vegetation. That’s a serious concern in the North Hills, where someone shooting at exploding targets started the 2019 North Hills Fire that burned 5,000 acres and threatened homes in the north Helena Valley.
“That’s what the residents here are deathly afraid of; they don’t want people that are irresponsible wrecking it for everyone,” said Dutton. “These are public lands; let’s take care of it so all public can enjoy them.”
The fires aren’t the only issus authorities are reporting. Dutton said they’ve found lots of garbage left around the area – everything from spent shell casings to large appliances. However, he said someone has been cleaning up the mess in the last few days.
“I took pictures of it a couple of days ago and there was trash all along there, so the neighbors or responsible people have been coming in here and cleaning it,” he said.
Authorities are also noticing evidence of people illegally shooting power poles, signs and gates around the area. In one case, sheriff’s office leaders said a gate no longer opened after it had been shot multiple times, so it will have to be replaced.
In previous years, the Bureau of Land Management – which oversees that part of the North Hills – has closed the area to shooting because of fire concerns. Dutton said that hasn’t happened yet this year, but he asked those who are shooting to be responsible.
“If you continue to shoot everything and vandalize what’s been here left for the public, the Bureau of Land Management might not have any recourse other than to say, ‘Okay, no shooting,’” he said.
Dutton said the BLM is planning to come out with a public campaign, reminding people of the fines they could face if they’re caught illegally dumping or leaving a fire unattended.