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After rainy leadup, area expected to see an ‘average’ wildfire season this year

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An aircraft drops fire retardant on the edges of a wildfire. ADOBE STOCK

Local first responders confident in their ‘great working relationship’ with various partners going into wildfire season


Southwest Montana is expected to see an “average” fire season this year following steady rain through the spring and early summer, officials said during a Thursday media briefing.

Patrick Lonergan, chief of Gallatin County Emergency Management, said that wildfire seasons are tough things to predict, and Brian Nickolay, fire chief of the Hyalite Rural Fire District, noted that heavy rain can give false hope for a low fire season. Regardless, Lonergan noted the slightly above average precipitation is positive, and now it depends on late summer weather with things such as lightning, wind and precipitation.

“Right now, the Northern Rockies outlook for the late summer fire season is about average, which can mean anything,” Lonergan said.

The wildfire media day was hosted by Gallatin County in Bozeman. Lonergan and Nickolay spoke at the meeting along with Marna Daley, public affairs officer for the Custer Gallatin National Forest; Jeremy Kopp, undersheriff with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office; and Helen Duran, a wildfire prevention specialist from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The meeting included discussions on the logistics of the media’s response to wildfire, media-first responder relationships and outlining details of preparation, prevention, communication and evacuation as well as providing a tentative outlook for the potential upcoming wildfire season.

“The focus point for the media right now should be communicating with the public the importance of preparing your property and structures for potential fires,” Kopp told those in attendance.

The NRDC’s Duran followed this up by providing a number of resources for fire prevention and preparation education. 

With the rapid growth in the county surrounding area, fire departments are lean in staffing for wildfire response.

“Somewhere around 80% of firefighters in the area are volunteers,” Nickolay said.

Thus making prevention and preparation more important than ever. Lonergan, Duran and Kopp all stressed the importance of staying patient and informed when wildfires arise. Most importantly to pay attention to local traffic regulations and issued warnings and evacuations.

“Our number one priority is preservation and safety, we (Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office) work hard to communicate with the fire departments and forest service to know who is at risk during wildfires and when to issue warnings and evacuations,” Kopp told the group.

With the difficulty of predicting how the fire season will go, the area’s growing population and a heavy local reliance on volunteer firefighters, the relationship between county, state, and federal firefighting services are more important than ever, officials stressed during the meeting. The representatives from each of the groups on Thursday asserted, with confidence, that they have a great working relationship and are excited to work with media throughout the county to keep the public and its lands safe from wildfire.

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