By Diane Tipton, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
With spring nearly undetectable, as it was this year, it might be said that Montana has only three seasons—winter, summer and fall. For hunters, make that winter, summer and hunting season. For wildland firefighters, that is winter, summer and wildland fire season.
Montana’s general deer and elk big game hunting begins Oct. 22, but archery hunting for antelope, deer and elk began Sept. 3, and other hunting began as early as Aug. 15. That means that Montana’s hunting season runs concurrently with its wildland fire season.
Wildland fire season is marked by smoke and adrenalin for many Montanans, including Jenny Dargan. Dargan is an FWP employee in Helena whose husband manages wildfires for Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
“Each year fire season reminds me of how proud I am of my husband and the sacrifices he makes, while at the same time it tests my patience with his cell phone ringing non-stop and dinners as late as 10 p.m. some nights,” she said.
Dargan said everything from family vacations to weekend barbeques with friends are spur of the moment during fire season. If her husband is called to a fire, the plan is off.
“We have even celebrated his birthday without him,” she said. “But there is no changing it–fire fighting is in his blood, just as it was in his father and grandfathers’ blood before him.”
The hundreds of committed volunteers, paid personnel and firefighters who staff a typical Montana fire season include FWP game wardens. FWP wardens have been called upon to help out on wildland fires near Missoula, Seeley Lake, Yellowstone Park, Broadus, and other locations in recent years.
“Wardens assisted with the Beartooth Game Range fire in 2007 when Holter Lake and the game range were closed to the public,” said Kqyn Kuka, FWP warden from Great Falls. She and wardens Bryan Golie of Cascade and Joe Kambic of Deer Lodge patrolled the lake, explained the closures and went door to door to assist with evacuations.
“The 2009 Noble Fire in the north hills was directly north of our property,” Dargan said. “I left work early for home. As I got closer I panicked at the size of the fire, all of the emergency vehicles, road closures, and the crowds gathering.”
With assurances from fire fighting friends that her home would be OK, Dargan quickly turned to helping neighbors get their livestock out and putting together sandwiches, snacks and water for the fire crews.
Hunting and wildland fire fighting are two colorful, long-standing Montana traditions that come at about the same time every year. Each has its own language, culture, and history. Each, in its own way, brings people together and connects them to the land.
The Northern Rockies Coordination Center coordinates the work of dedicated people from federal, state and tribal land management organizations and mobilizes fire fighting resources. For comprehensive information about wildland fire in the northwest, and important links to Montana’s fire fighting organizations, visit the NRCC website at gacc.nifc.gov/nrcc/.
For help planning hunts during Montana’s wildland fire season, hunters can go to the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov. FWP’s drought and fire page and Inci web’s reports will be updated until the flames die out on another fire season in Montana.
For photos of past Montana fire seasons taken by FWP employees, visit check out FWP on Facebook.