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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Researchers rethink rural wildfire mitigation 

It’s wildfire season. Rural communities and those on the outskirts of urban centers face greater danger than others. New research urges homeowners and state officials to rethink how they mitigate risk for those areas.

A few Montana communities in wildland urban interface areas, where natural landscapes and human development collide, have experienced destructive wildfires in recent years. That includes the 2021 West Wind fire in Denton and 2020 Bridger Foothills fire outside of Bozeman.

Traditionally, fire suppression has focused on management of the landscape around communities.

Kimi Barrett, a fire researcher and policy analyst with Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics, is one of the authors of a report that argues the most effective way to limit structure loss and damage in community wildfires is to refocus on minimizing home ignition risk.

“We must now start thinking very deliberately about how, where and under what conditions homes are being placed in those high risk locations,” Barrett said.

Barrett says continued development in wildlands and increased fire risk due to climate change makes the need for reframing fire suppression urgent.

Barrett says the most effective measure would be for state officials to adopt new, fire-resilient building codes, but emphasizes there are steps homeowners can take to limit fire danger:

“Every homeowner out there can actually take action this weekend to reduce their risk to their property and structure, including removing any debris or vegetation, accumulated materials on the roof or in the gutters or on the deck that can ignite from a fire,” Barrett said.

Montana has one of the highest percentages of homes in the wildland urban interface, relative to the total number of houses, in the country.

Fireline probes the causes and consequences of the increasingly devastating wildfires burning in the U.S. It taps into the experience of firefighters, tribal land managers, climate scientists and others to understand how we got here and where we're going.
Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

John joined the Montana Public Radio team in August 2022. Born and raised in Helena, he graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts and created the Montana history podcast Land Grab. John can be contacted at john.hooks@umt.edu
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