Fire Department Prepares for Possible Wildfires - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Fire Department Prepares for Possible Wildfires

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BILLINGS, Mont. -

The month of June saw a good bit of rain, but July may be a different story. Temperatures in the Billings area have gotten up in the high 90s, which can be a cause for concern when it comes to wildfire season.

In 2017, the Montana DNRC reported 277 fires in Yellowstone County. While grass is getting dry across the state, the Billings Fire Department is lucky to have a good relationship with the DNRC. Battalion Chief for Fire Station 1, Matt Hoppel explained, "They have access to a lot of information on current conditions, so on a daily basis we are given those conditions. So, we monitor the conditions that are within our county here, within our response area. Beginning of each day, we get a briefing on what that is and what we should be prepared for. You know, everything is based on weather and fuels, you know, what you have in that area for that day. So we keep a close eye on that."

4,982 acres were burned last year in the county. The battalion chief said that every year, firefighters go through a wildfire refresher. "Just to get our mindset in the right area. In May or June, we go through and do all of that review just to be back on our toes and get our gear out and be prepared for something like that to happen."

Every year emergency personnel and officials try to predict how bad wildfire season will be. "They were predicting in June that it'd be above average, well we had a cool, wet spring, so that kind of changed that. But that can be short lived. Depending on what changes in the weather."

To help keep things wet, one would think we need rain. According to Battalion Chief Hoppel, it depends on the kind of storms. Chief Hoppel said, "If you're getting lightning within that rain, you get the type of storm with that. You have all that rain fall and then you get some lightning strikes, that can have a huge effect. If stuff is dry already, and rain comes down, versus things already being wet and green, that's when things start to change colors, things start to dry out, where that rain doesn't really have a lot of effect."

While weather conditions change from dry to wet and back to dry, a lot of vegetation pops up and dries out. Chief Hoppel explained how the community can really help keep wildfires from happening.

"With that vegetation, especially the people who live in the wildland urban interface areas, the homes that are built within the trees, stuff like that, there's a lot of stuff you can do. There are a lot of resources online to see how you can clear that vegetation around houses. Vegetation close to houses is what burns houses down. So as long as they're clearing their houses for 15 foot buffer, 30 foot buffer. It depends on where their house is built, it could be on a slope, not on a slope, what kind of fuels you have on the ground. Simply clearing dead pine needles from around the foundations, anything that can burn."

The battalion chief also said people can throw water on vegetation but it will never clear the vegetation. Also, pine needles can get inside rain gutters. He said homeowners should keep things like that clean, as well.

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