Montana may be in for a "typical" fire season, but officials say that’s not the same thing as an "easy" fire season. Montana’s Fire and Aviation chief for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says most signs point to a “normal” fire season this year.
"But I want to make absolutely clear that in Montana, as you’re well aware, 'normal' means the DNRC will respond to over 300 wildland fires, our local government partners will probably respond to 1,000 more," says Mike DeGrosky.
He offered a fire season preview to the legislative Environmental Quality Council this week in Helena.
DeGrosky says the fires that DNRC fights during an average wildfire season typically burn about 132,000 acres. That costs taxpayers between $2 million and $3 million.
The state’s five firefighting helicopters will be allowed to respond to some blazes on federal lands this year thanks to a new deal hashed out between Montana and federal officials.
They were barred from doing that last year. That’s because federal standards require smaller buckets to scoop up water. The agreement will allow the state choppers to fight fire on federal land when lives are at risk or the governor declares a state of emergency.
State officials have lobbied for the right to use state helicopters on federal lands because they can sometimes respond much more quickly and stifle fires before they get big.
More details about the development will be released on Friday.
A catastrophic wildfire burning in Alberta, Canada meanwhile, has destroyed over 1,600 homes and prompted almost 88,000 evacuations.
Missoula’s Neptune Aviation provides air tanker services.
Chief Operating Officer Dan Snyder says Neptune tankers are not assisting the Canadian firefighting effort yet.
"At this point there’s been some preliminary discussions about aircraft going. No definitive information of when, or if, we would go. Just more of a question of 'if you are going to go, how fast could you respond,' and basically just logistical questions at this time."
That fire in Alberta is about 700 miles from Missoula.
The U.S. Forest Service reports Canadian officials have not requested assistance from the United States.