Wildfires Happen – Take Action!
Day 1: Take Action during Wildfire Awareness Week
Wildfire Awareness Week is a weeklong effort to raise awareness in Montana about wildfire safety. FireSafe Montana, Keep Montana Green, the Governor’s Office of Community Service, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and Montana Red Cross have teamed up to make sure you and your family are prepared for wildfire season.
WAW will feature a five day wildfire awareness communications campaign, with daily news releases on a variety of topics to encourage widespread media coverage. The week will begin with community action events around the state, many of which are listed on FireSafe Montana website. On Tuesday, June 3rd, a kick-off event at the Montana Capitol in Helena will include remarks by Governor Bullock, a home mitigation demonstration by the Tri-County FireSafe Working Group, and wildfire preparedness tips from Montana Red Cross.
“Wildfire Awareness Week is an opportunity to remind us of the nature of wildfires in Montana and ensure that we take the necessary steps to prepare and keep our citizens safe,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “Whether gathering as a community to discuss neighborhood resources or taking individual steps to mitigate your home, I look forward to Montanans using this week to learn more about planning, preparing, and preventing the hazards associated with wildfires. By working together to make a difference, we can keep our communities vibrant and durable during even the toughest challenges.”
In many western states, people live in fire-adapted environments where wildfire is a vital part of a natural and complex ecological process. During most of the past century, wildfires were suppressed for the protection of life and property. This relative exclusion of fire has left many public and private forests overcrowded, unhealthy, and subsequently infested with beetles or infected with disease. Prior to this period of wildfire suppression, periodic low intensity fires, or less frequent high intensity fires, burned through and cleared the forest understory, maintaining open stands that were more resistant to insects and diseases.
Recent scientific findings have also connected the current wildfire conditions with a changing climate. Many areas around the west are experiencing longer fire seasons and more frequent or intense wildfire occurrence, while drought conditions have left forests dry and ready to burn with the next lightning strike or escaped campfire. According to a DNRC report in 2014, it is estimated that Montana’s fire season has increased by approximately 77 days since 1980.
An average of 85% of wildfires between 2001 and 2011 were caused by human activity, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). In Montana, top causes of wildfires change through the course of the season: escaped debris and agricultural burns in the spring, escaped or unattended campfires in the summer; sparks from dragging trailer chains, lawnmowers, chainsaws or field machinery in the late summer and early fall when grasses are cured and ripe for ignition.
As people continue to move into the Wildland Urban Interface (those areas where communities and wildlands meet) their actions increase the potential for ignition and for their homes to become fuel in the event of a wildfire. Fortunately, there are many ways for these home and property owners to make a difference and work together to create fire-adapted communities. One example is evaluating and decreasing the ignitability of homes. Homeowners can also selectively thin and clear vegetation around their homes to create a larger “survivable space.” By taking these steps, folks can work toward leaving their homes unattended during a wildfire and creating a safer place where firefighters may be more successful, if able to respond.
When a fire does threaten a neighborhood, it is important that residents are familiar with three things:
- How to prepare in advance for evacuation
- Evacuation procedures for the area
- How evacuation notices will be communicated
After a fire passes through, understanding the hazards that have been created by the fire will hopefully help residents better accept the delay in returning to their homes after evacuation. Additionally, completing suggested preparations and being familiar with available community resources could assist in recovery efforts.
Over the next several days, a cooperating group of interagency and community wildfire professionals will be sharing more specific information about these topics and recommended actions including:
- How to evaluate and improve your Home Ignition Zone.
- How to create the suggested survivable space around your home.
- How to prepare your family for evacuation and what to expect when a wildfire moves through your area.
- What to expect in the aftermath of a wildfire.
We hope you will join us in this opportunity to become more prepared, aware and informed about wildfire in Montana during this year’s Wildfire Awareness Week. For more information, visit these websites: