The State of Montana has a new Fire and Aviation Bureau Chief. He was hired last month, and is keeping a close eye on this winter’s weather.
Mike DeGrosky replaces Ted Mead, who retired from the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in December.
DeGrosky has almost four decades of wildland fire and incident management experience under his belt. His job will be to lead and coordinate Montana’s wildland fire services. How challenging that job is from year to year depends a lot on how much snow and rain Montana gets.
DeGrosky says he’s been pleasantly surprised by this winter’s precipitation:
"Up until last week I was thinking, ‘We’re looking pretty good. This isn’t really what I was expecting from this El Niño year. We’re getting snow, we have decent snowpack.’ It’s not exactly what I had envisioned."
But what a difference a week can make.
"The difference between what I saw driving up the Clearwater River last week compared to what I saw up the Clearwater River this week left me a little concerned. It feels like spring’s coming on awfully early."
Montana’s fleet of firefighting helicopters aren’t allowed to attack fires on federal land. The Forest Service says it doesn’t use state helicopters because they don’t meet the agency’s safety standards. Last year Governor Steve Bullock made that an issue, pressing the Forest Service to use state helicopters. DeGrosky says that hasn’t been resolved yet.
"It’s an ongoing issue and we’re still working on it with the Forest Service. It’s probably all I can say about it at this point because it is an ongoing issue and we’re negotiating between agencies.”
DeGrosky hopes the issue is resolved before the start of this year’s fire season.