Gianforte activates Guard for wildfire operations

Gov. Greg Gianforte has activated two Montana National Guard helicopter support modules, including 24 soldiers, only state active duty, or Title 32 status, for 15 days to support the state’s wildfire response.

“These Montana National Guard soldiers are well-trained and well-prepared for this mobilization. On behalf of a grateful state, I want to thank these soldiers for joining our courageous firefighters and first responders on the frontlines in our state’s wildfire response,” Gianforte said in a release.

Community meeting set for July 19 for Divide Complex fires

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation put in a request on July 22 for military support to aid in wildland fire suppression efforts, according to the governor’s office.

The Montana National Guard will provide one UH-60 Black Hawk crew and support personnel to operate out of Billings to support fire suppression efforts for eastern Montana. One CH-47 Chinook crew and support personnel will operate out of Helena and provide support for the western side of the state.

National Preparedness Level at highest point; Divide Complex fires

“As wildland fire incidents emerge and develop, additional requests for National Guard support will be considered, and future deployments of helicopter and ground support will be examined,” according to the release.

In this region, the Divide Complex, which consists of the Balsinger and Ellis fires, has 252 personnel assigned and covers 3,766 acres, according to the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.

The fire is currently being managed by a Type 3 incident management team but on July 23, a Type 2, higher level, incident management team, will assume command, according to the Forest Service.

Gianforte issues statewide emergency for wildfire

“For Thursday’s operational period, resources on the Balsinger Fire will focus on securing and strengthening existing fireline and fuels reduction work. Crews are focused on the eastern edge of the fire and along Divide Road to reduce heavy fuels in the area in anticipation of the fire’s possible movement in that direction. Additionally, structure group resources along the Belt Parkway, 89-corridor area, work to assess structures and develop a structure protection plan. On the Ellis Fire, crews continue to mop-up and secure existing fire line and rehab dozer line used as part of suppression efforts,” according to the Forest Service.

The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest is currently under Stage 1 Fire Restrictions, including the use of charcoal grills.

Cascade County implements Stage 2 fire restrictions

Afternoon and evening thunderstorms are forecasted for July 22 with the possibility of hail, gusty winds and brief heavy downpours associated with the storms. Shower and thunderstorm activity is expected to diminish and end by midnight.

“A fire weather watch is in effect Friday afternoon through the evening. Under a fire weather watch, conditions are ideal for a fire to start due to increased winds, low relative humidity, and higher temperatures,” according to the Forest Service.

Cascade County is currently under Stage 2 fire restrictions.

Under Stage Two restrictions:

  • Open burning is prohibited including any wood or combustible material in fire pits, rings etc. including private residences.
  • Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire for any purpose is not allowed including in developed recreation sites or improved areas.
  • Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, or while stopped in an area of at least six feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all combustible material.
  • No operating a chainsaw or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine without a USDA or SAE approved spark arresting device properly installed and in proper working order. Blasting or welding is prohibited.
  • Campers are ONLY allowed to cook using a device that is solely fueled by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels and can be turned on and off.
  • All Fireworks are prohibited. All exploding targets (available for sale to recreational shooters) are also considered a pyrotechnic product and are also prohibited.
  • Operating motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails is prohibited.
  • Persons using charcoal briquettes are allowed ONLY on private property in a “backyard” barbeque located in an area that is barren or cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within six feet of the device.