Wildfire Awareness Month

Gallatin County Emergency Management

May is Wildfire Awareness Month here in Montana, and many other states in the West.  When I think about wildfire awareness, my mind focuses on two area that people can make a difference in; preventing a fire from starting and mitigating their property’s fire risk.  Both of these can be done with a little time and common sense by anyone with the potential payoff of avoiding a really bad day down the road!

We won’t know how bad the 2015 fire season in Montana will be until winter, but we do know we have some enhanced risks this summer.  Snow packs are generally below average around Montana, and in some places significantly below normal.  Last summer was also fairly wet in our area compared to usual.  This means that in many area we likely have thicker grass and the vegetation is drier, which provides fuel for a growing wildfire.  Keep in mind this doesn’t automatically mean we will have massive wildfires this summer as a lot of other factors play into the mix.  For those of you familiar with the Swiss cheese Model, wildfire acts much the same way with multiple factors needing to align to cause problems.  The amount of rain we receive this spring will dictate how long things stay green (i.e. wet) and conversely how high the grass grows.  Summer thunderstorms with lightening and no rain are frequently a common contributor to wildfires starting around here while windy days help the fire grow quicker once they start.  Sometimes the difference between catching a new wildfire, and it escaping, is how much stuff you can throw at it which the availability of resources here in Montana is proportional to what else is going on around the rest of the country.



The single best thing people can do is don’t let a fire get started or let a controlled fire get out of control.  This year’s theme of “One Less Spark, One Less Wildfire” captures the concept well.  Following these simple practices will go a long way in keeping a bad day from starting:

  • When you conduct controlled burns, always activate your burn permit at burnpermits.mt.gov.
    • If you aren’t positive on the weather conditions, don’t burn.  A calm morning often turns into a hot windy afternoon!
    • Always clear the area around your burn and have the water and tools needed to control your fire.  The difference between under control and out of control is pretty small.
    • Always stay with the fire until it is COMPLETELY out.
    • If it starts getting out of control, call 911 immediately.
  • Enjoy your campfire in a safe setting and never leave it burning.  If it is too hot to touch, then it is too hot to leave!
  • Avoid driving in dry grass and use spark arrestors on engines.  It is a really bad feeling when you look behind and see fire!
  • Fireworks are by their nature unpredictable and great fire starters.  Consider attending a public display in the community.

Waldo Canyon Fire

Despite trying to prevent fires from starting, fires will occur.  With a little effort over time property owners can do some simple work around their property to make it more resistive to fire.  Once a wildfire occurs, it is often too late to do the work that is needed for a home to be resistant to an approaching fire.  Despite emergency officials’ desire, time and available resources often don’t make it possible to do the work that should be done ahead of time.  A home that has had work done ahead of time in making it fire resistant stands a much higher chance of firefighters being able to save it, and if necessary surviving on its own.  Montana has adopted a program known as Ready, Set, Go! and produced a specific Ready, Set, Go! Montana Guide.  This guide will provide information on activities that any property owner in Montana can do with a little work.  Remember, a little time on the front end could help your family avoid a really bad day!



We never know when or where a wildfire will start, however in you live in Montana you are likely at risk.  Living in a subdivision doesn’t mean you’re safe from fire, time spent making your house resistant to fire will benefit anyone.  Learn more at ReadyGallatin.com/Wildfire.