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National wildfire experts paint grim outlook for season, local stations prepare

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: May 13 2013 07:02:04 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

"We're confident that the western United States is going to see an above normal, significant fire potential season."

Those are words from a wildfire analyst at the National Interagency Fire Center.

Folks with the Department of Agriculture tell us we're facing moderate to severe drought conditions across 40 percent of the United States, combine that with beetle kill and we have a prescription for very serious conditions.

"If we have above average temperatures, which we're expected to have and below average precipitation, which very well could happen, that is a combination that doesn't bode well for a simple season so, we obviously have to be prepared to the extent we can be for the very worst and I think our folks are," says Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

That's despite across-the-board budget cuts and sequestration, which leaves the U.S. Forest Service with 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer engines.

Yet, it's not just national agencies preparing for the worst.

"We're really worried about existing fire conditions until we get some more rain, which will cause more vegetation to grow and make it less likely to burn."

Folks with Fort Ellis Fire tell me they've already seen four fires since the start of the season in April. They say that's a lot for this time of year and it has them worried about what's to come.

"We're really worried about existing fire conditions until we get some more rain, which will cause more vegetation to grow and make it less likely to burn," says Fort Ellis Fire Chief Mike Cech.

Cech says they've been training since February.

"Making sure all of our trucks are ready, our hoses are ready, making sure that we're reviewing the entire district for changing conditions, excessive fuels out there and we still can't predict the unknowns," says Cech.

Unknowns like the fires that started when red hot parts came off a train.

Cech took me one of the spots along Frontage road. The fires burned five acres before the district put it out.

He says responsible controlled burning is also out of their hands.

"We just want people to continue to be aware of fire conditions, changing conditions. If they're planning on doing any controlled permitted burning, make sure that they have their permits, get them activated," explains Cech.

Cech says he hopes folks will take the proper precautions when they burn.

"The right conditions are key when you're burning. You don't want to be burning ion the wind. You don't want to do it when it's extremely dry, low humidity. So, early in the morning, low wind conditions, best time to burn," explains Cech.

He says it's also important to have means of suppressing the fire once it gets started.

Folks with the Department of the Interior say there are things you can do to prepare for wildfire season.

Create a buffer around your home. Remove fuels from around your house- clear brush, trees and flammable materials.

For more information, you can visit the Fire Adapted Communities website.