May 8, 2010 in City

Western Montana braces for fire season

Matt Gouras Associated Press
 

HELENA – A new report shows that Western Montana’s forests are seeing near-record dry conditions so far this year – exactly 100 years after the Great Fire of 1910.

The annual drought report, delivered to the governor Friday, warned that snowpack is about half of normal in some river basins in the west. That, along with millions of acres of forestland packed with trees killed by beetles, could lead to another bad fire season.

“The potential for a very active fire year is out there,” said Mary Sexton, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. “People need to be aware of that.”

Sexton said Western Montana is in the midst of the fourth-driest year in 115 years. That could change, she said, but time is running out to add meaningful snowpack.

The state said people need to take responsibility for fireproofing their property. Simple precautions like moving firewood away from the home and clearing trees and shrubs can help, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said.

“When the fire comes, you are the one responsible for protecting your home from forest fire,” Schweitzer said. “Don’t assume some government agency will protect your assets.”

Exactly 100 years ago, one of the worst fires ever to sweep through Montana and Idaho turned summer into a ghastly scene of smoke and carnage. The Great Fire of 1910 – driven by huge winds – burned more than 3 million acres, killed 86 people and destroyed several towns.

The governor said a reserve fund set up by his administration to pay for fire costs currently has about $26 million to help fund fighting fires.

The drought report also had some good news.

It says wheat country and Eastern Montana have seen plenty of moisture. Some areas are seeing very good growing conditions.

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