Missoula, Montana, August 17, 2015, 2:00pm—The Northern Rockies Geographic Area, which includes the states of Montana, North Dakota, and northern Idaho, Yellowstone National Park, and a small portion of South Dakota,had been experiencing an average fire year until widespread and intense thunderstorms – many packing substantial lightning and very little rain – walloped the area last week. Hundreds of new fire starts were reported around the region and the ones that escaped initial attack quickly grew into large incidents.
CLICK HERE to see the map of current large incident wildfires in the region
The Northern Rockies Coordination Center is reporting 30 large fires, many of which are multi-fire complexes, with incident management teams managing multiple fires. This number does not include many smaller fires managed locally. The largest single fire, the Thompson Fire in Glacier National Park, is 13,680 acres. The largest complex of fires is the Clearwater Complex at more than 43,000 acres in Idaho. Not included in the overall tally are smaller fires that are being staffed with local responders and an immense workload related to initial attack for new fire starts. Combine that with the demands for resources around the nation and it’s a challenging proposition for fire managers.
“There’s a lot of fire on the landscape, not only here, but in California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and elsewhere,” said Ken Schmid, Chair of the Northern Rockies Coordinating Group. “Resources are stretched thin with needs everywhere, but we’re working hard to find ways to meet the need.”
Complexing multiple fires is one strategy that can help when incident management teams are in short supply. For the 30 large fires, there are eight Type 1 and 2 teams available and all are assigned, managing multiple fires each. In addition, there are teams assembled locally to respond as well:19 are working on fires throughout the region: they have been critical assets in incident management.
The challenge will be to allocate resources – aircraft, crews, engines and heavy equipment with proper supervision – to the existing fires, and still maintain capacity to quickly respond to new fires. Additionally, the Northern Rockies Coordinating Group will have the task of prioritizing the needs for all incidents and allocating a limited number of resources – requests for which exceed what’s currently available.
“Our teams understand the situation and they are planning accordingly,” said Schmid. “We are in constant communication with them to talk about resources needs, availability, and configuring the resources they do have for maximum benefit.”
If there’s good news amidst the flurry of fire activity, it’s that additional help from the Montana Air National Guard as well as from Canada have arrived and are available for assignment. The Guard became available after Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s Emergency Declaration over the weekend. Similar declarations have been made for several counties in Idaho. The Canadian resources are available through an agreement between the USDA Forest Service, Montana, Idaho and several western states and Canadian provinces.
Firefighters will also catch a break with a favorable weather forecast for most of the week, though there will be an increase in westerly winds on Friday. Fortunately, this will be followed by cooler temperatures and higher humidities in the weekend.
Source: Northern Rockies Coordinating Group