On the edge of fire

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The thwap-thwap-thwap of chopper one propeller blades vibrate overhead. The ship is flying low, with combat experienced pilots at the helm and sophisticated heat-sensor equipment aboard. It is another hot day with continuing warm and dry conditions. The 3 p.m. winds are both cool and concerning.

Though the breeze feels nice, up yonder on the Tamarack Fire the 20 foot winds are predicted by incident meteorologist Patrick Gilchrist to reach 10 mph with gusts around 20 mph this afternoon. This is concerning. Although we had a wet spring, the moisture helped fuel loads grow rapidly, and now these heavy fuels are tinder for trouble. Some, left in stands of timber untreated and neglected due to lack of funding for forest management and forest fuels reduction treatments remain near the edge of fire. With wind gusts predicted, the concern is that the fire could jump the established perimeter lines and spread, well, like wildfire!

The goal for the Northern Rockies Wildland Fire Management Team is to implement a full suppression strategy in minimizing fire spread by pursuing weather opportunities, utilizing natural barriers, and capitalizing on terrain features to safely establish containment. It is a tough job, and it takes a tough, smart and resilient team to combat the threats to life, property, economics and our quality of life here in northwest Montana.

And a team it is! From all over our great country they may come, and at times other countries also. They come to plan; support; sweat; transport; feed; pay; provide medical care; fell trees; dig line; operate machinery; and provide air attack to defeat the devastating enemy, wildland fire. The team itself is mainly from Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, but additional resources come in from Wisconsin, California, Vermont and Nevada. This team, according to fire information officers Kathy Bushnell and Bob MacGregor, have folks that have been working together for 10 to 20 years. They came up from fighting fires near Lincoln, including the Park Creek, Arrastra and the Alice Creek fire. This specialized team manages fires of long term duration and employs computer fire prediction monitoring expertise that along with strategy and planning wield a lethal baton to subdue wildland fires.

We the community, due to our own efforts, our strong, seamless local firefighting resources, and the people of the area who are so supportive and welcoming of the incoming personnel are in good hands with this team. We are all grateful for the single file lines of hotshot crews and line crews made up mostly of young, strong men and women. We appreciate the Native American crews, and the work of the graybeards and silver haired ladies that share their wealth of knowledge, experience, and teaching abilities.

Let’s pull together and support our fire fighters! For the reality is that much is up to God and nature. And the worst may be still to come.

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