National Park Service releases video about the Howe Ridge Fire

The fire burned 14,000 acres and more than a dozen structures in Glacier National Park in August, 2018

Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park
Howe Ridge Fire, August 12, 2018. NPS photo.

The National Park Service has released a video discussing the first 36 hours of the Howe Ridge Fire that burned over 14,000 acres in Glacier National Park in Northern Montana in August, 2018. The fire destroyed approximately 13 private homes and publicly-owned historic structures.

Below is text released by the NPS along with the video on August 1, 2019. The photos are NPS photos of the fire on flickr but no photographer credits or dates were provided.

Lakewood, CO – Today, the National Park Service (NPS) released a video documenting the first 36 hours of the Howe Ridge Fire, which took place at Glacier National Park. The fire destroyed private homes and publicly-owned historic structures on August 12, 2018.

The video documents steps firefighters took to attack the wildland fire initially, and the combination of factors that made initial attack unsuccessful. The video also documents evacuation and structural firefighting efforts.

The goal of the video is to share these efforts and raise awareness about this incident to other public land management agencies, people who visit and recreate on public lands, and residents who live in wildland fire prone areas.

Summary of Events
August 11, 2018, was a Red Flag day when a weather system moved through the region bringing little moisture and widespread lightning, 19 fires ignited across the Northern Rockies Fire Zone. Three of these fires ignited in Glacier National Park, requiring interagency fire managers to prioritize by considering values at risk. The Howe Ridge Fire was detected at 7:18 pm – all three park fires were deemed high priority fires. Firefighters caught the other two fires on initial attack due to a combination of factors, including access and weather conditions.

In the last 10 years, there were three other reported fires on Howe Ridge. Because the area is relatively close to developed infrastructure, all three fires were managed with full suppression tactics. One was suppressed at .1 acres, another at 2.3 acres, and the third was never found after the initial report. We presume that fire went out without firefighter intervention. In all cases, these previous fires were relatively straightforward to control.

Howe Ridge Fire Glacier National Park 2018
Two CL-415 scooping air tankers work the Howe Ridge Fire, Glacier National Park, August, 2018. NPS photo.

Continue reading “National Park Service releases video about the Howe Ridge Fire”

Hundreds of homes evacuated due to wildfire north of Helena

The North Hills Fire has burned 4,225 acres 10 miles north of downtown Helena, Montana

map North Hills Fire Helena MT
Map showing the location of the North Hills Fire north of Helena, Montana. The red line was the perimeter at 9:37 p.m. MDT July 28. The red-shaded areas were areas of intense heat. The red dots on the south side represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:30 a.m. MDT July 29, 2019. Click to enlarge.

(UPDATED at 11:41 a.m. MDT July 29, 2019)

The North Hills Fire has forced the evacuation of 400 homes 10 miles north of downtown Helena, Montana. The fire was very active Sunday night, challenging firefighters who went house to house protecting private property.

An overnight mapping flight at 9:37 p.m. Sunday determined that at that time the fire had burned 4,225 acres. (see map above)

Sunday afternoon the firefighting resources assigned to the fire included 6 hand crews, 22 fire engines, and 6 helicopters for a total of 238 personnel.

Walt Jester, Chief of the Lewis and Clark Volunteer Fire Department, took some excellent photos of the fire:

North Hills Fire retardant drop
Retardant settles to the ground after being dropped by an RJ85 air tanker. Screengrab from Walter Jester’s video.

Mike Almas’ Northern Rockies Incident Management Team assumed command of the North Hills Fire at 6 a.m., Monday, July 29.

On Sunday, Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency via executive order temporarily suspending “hours of service” regulations to meet increased demand for drivers’ hours spent transporting fuel and fire suppression resources.

We will update this article as more information becomes available.

Montana becomes 49th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters

Montana Governor to sign legislation today

With the passage of Senate Bill 160 Montana becomes the 48th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters.

The Firefighters Protection Act lists 12 presumptive diseases for which it would be easier for a firefighter to file a workers’ compensation claim if they served a certain number of years:

  • Bladder cancer, 12 years
  • Brain cancer, 10 years
  • Breast cancer, 5 years
  • Myocardial infarction, 10 years
  • colorectal cancer, 10 years
  • Esophageal cancer, 10 years
  • Kidney cancer, 15 years
  • Leukemia, 5 years
  • Mesothelioma or asbestosis, 10 years
  • Multiple myeloma, 15 years
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, 15 years
  • Lung cancer, 4 years

The bill applies to volunteers and local fire departments in Montana, but not to federal firefighters. It is unclear if it affects those employed by the state government.

The federal government has not established a presumptive disease program for their 15,000 wildland firefighters.

At a bill signing ceremony Thursday afternoon Governor Bullock will issue a proclamation ordering flags to be displayed at half-staff in honor of all Montana firefighters who have lost their lives from a job-related illness in the line of duty.

Governor Proclamation Montana firefighters

In a related story from April 12, “British Columbia may expand firefighter occupational disease coverage to wildland firefighters”

Part of Lame Deer, Montana evacuated as wildfire burns into the town

The west side of Lame Deer, Montana was evacuated Sunday as a wildfire burned into the town. Residents said it originated from a structure fire that spread into nearby vegetation, and pushed by strong winds it spread quickly.  Rosebud County Sheriff Allen Fulton estimated the fire grew to approximately 1,700 acres before firefighters contained it. There were no reports of any additional structures burning.

The fire jumped across Highway 212 but firefighters were able to stop it at Highway 39, the main road that runs north and south through the town.

Sunday afternoon a weather station on Badger Peak east of Lame Deer recorded a high of 63 degrees, 23 percent relative humidity, and winds out of the west and southwest at 10 to 22 mph with gusts up to 42 mph.

Several residents posted videos and photos on social media.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Al. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

29 have graduated recently from the Trapper Creek Job Corps firefighter program

The Ravalli Republic has an uplifting story about the recent graduates of the firefighter training program at the Trapper Creek Job Corps center south of Darby, Montana. The nine individuals that were recognized on December 10 are in addition to the 20 that previously graduated and left the facility. The graduates were given coats as a symbol of their achievements.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

…This past summer they learned that struggle can lead to something good. They learned that what they thought were their limits weren’t really where it stops at all. They discovered that they had much more buried deep inside of themselves than they ever imagined.

“You learned to embrace the suck,” said Trapper Creek’s Fire Training Specialist Danny Atkinson. “You found that struggle can become the goal. When it sucks the most, life is good. You discovered that you are a lot damn tougher than you ever thought you were.”

As a team that started with 44 members, they put in 71,774 hours on 277 assignments that took them to 11 states as far away as Wisconsin. Along the way, they and others at Trapper Creek Job Corps earned $1.2 million in gross pay. There is only one other Job Corps Center that’s broken the $1 million mark before. Trapper Creek has done that two years in a row.

“Some of our students have between $5,000 and $20,000 in their bank accounts,” said Justin Abbey, Trapper Creek’s Fire Management Officer. “That’s the money that they’ll be able to tap into to relocate, buy a car and pay for that first and last month’s rent. It helps set them up for success…”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paula.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

The Northern Rockies Fire Cache – A firefighting megastore

Above: Northern Rockies Fire Cache at Missoula. USFS photo.

(Originally published at 5:20 p.m. MDT August 29, 2018)

From adapters for everything imaginable to wrenches in all sizes – the Northern Rockies Fire Cache is a wildland firefighting megastore. When firefighters need equipment, tables, clothing, foot powder, sleeping bags, radios, or even medical supplies they call on the Cache to meet their needs.

Located in Missoula, Montana, the Northern Rockies Cache serves a wide range of federal, state, local and tribal government agencies within the Northern Rockies Geographical Area, an area of roughly 235,654 square miles.

The Northern Rockies Cache is capable of immediately supplying up to 5,000 firefighters and more than 30 major wildland fires. Support is sustained with a steady flow of replacement supplies from vendors and other Caches.

The Cache is moving toward becoming a minimal waste facility. Every piece of equipment returned to the Cache from a fire is assessed to see if it can be fixed, repaired, or refurbished. If it can, it is cleaned and repaired in-house saving considerable taxpayer dollars. If the equipment is beyond repair it gets recycled if possible. Last year alone the Cache recycled over 22,000 pounds of steel and almost 11,000 pounds of batteries.

Following the 2017 wildland fire season, the Cache inspected, laundered, and repaired over 40,000 pieces of Nomex clothing and over 9,000 sleeping bags. Working through this amount of laundry involves a lot of people – clothes and sleeping bags are inspected when they return from the fireline, sent to local businesses to be laundered, separated by size and condition, and those items needing a little TLC are set aside to be worked on during the winter months. Smokejumpers, known for their elite firefighting skills are also known for their sewing abilities and are called on during the winter to repair Nomex clothing so it can be used again the next season.

How does it work? When a fire burns for a number of days it quickly surpasses the local unit’s ability to provide needed supplies and provisions. Fire managers will place orders for the things they need to the Cache which quickly assembles and ships the supplies. When the fire no longer needs the supplies they return them to the Cache to be cleaned, refurbished and restocked. This includes the miles of hose that has to be pressure tested, cleaned to remove any aquatic hitchhikers (aquatic invasive species), dried, and finally rolled and stacked. Following the 2017 fire season over 1,200 miles of hose (enough hose to reach from Missoula to Long Beach, CA) went through this process.

fire cache at the National Interagency Fire Center
Portable pumps in the fire cache at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID. BLM photo.

A few Cache figures from the 2017 fire season: 1,300 pumps cleaned and refurbished (the last pump was put back on the shelf ready for the 2018 fire season in June – a year after the 2017 fire season began); almost 400 chainsaws, over 8,200 fire tools, almost 3 million pairs of earplugs, almost 300 pounds of foot powder, over 1.2 million AA batteries; and 64,420 MREs (meals ready to eat) which is enough to feed one person, three meals a day for 58.8 years.

Although its primary focus is to support fire suppression activities in northern Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota (referred to as the Northern Rockies Geographical Area), the Northern Rockies Cache may also lend support to any type of emergency incident in every part of the country. Beginning in the late 1990s, this helping hand and support was extended to include Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

This Cache’s staffing operation consists of 15 people year round and up to 50 during the summer. This highly skilled workforce has met the needs of firefighters across the nation for the last 3 years with no serious accidents.