The fires raging in California, and one continuing to smolder in Glacier National Park, have managers in Whitefish thinking about how people in town can prepare for the worst.
More than 70 people came to the Wildfire In The City forum, hosted by Climate Smart Glacier Country on Wednesday. Speakers showed old images and newspaper clippings detailing the area’s historic burns and city staff talked about the challenges Whitefish faces.
"And I think about fire in Whitefish ... fire at the edge of the city. We have serious issues," says City Counselor Richard Hildner.
He talked about lessons he’s pulling from Paradise, California, which was mostly destroyed by the Camp Fire last week, and how Whitefish is also surrounded by dense forests with few options for emergency egress.
"They had done an evacuation drill. The question I have: summertime population here is 18,000. Can we evacuate 18,000 people? That would be a stretch. Because it took them two hours to go 16 miles. That's slow traffic."
Hildner asked attendees if Whitefish should consider regulating fire adaptive measures like cleaning rain gutters, requiring people to build with fire-resistant materials or setting a mandatory date each spring to move firewood away from house sides.
He says such ordinances smack of Big Brother and ultimately, education, not regulation, will better protect neighborhoods in town and the wildland-urban interface.
"Your home is the fuel. You have work to do. As a homeowner, you have work to do every year, every season," says Joe Page, Whitefish's fire chief.
Page encouraged attendees to join or create fire-wise communities like the Whitefish Area Fire Safe Council.
"Clean is what we're looking for. If you keep your property clean you'll be a lot safer, as will your neighbor," says member Bambi Goodman.