Federal infrastructure bill to provide fire defense resources

MONTANA - So far this year, there have already been 614 wildland fires with 23 actively burning as of July 14. 

As part of the recent bipartisan infrastructure law, President Biden announced new initiatives to support wildland firefighters and fire defense. 

Federal wildland firefighters will receive a temporary pay increase, mental health and wellness support and have more opportunity for growth through the establishment of a wildfire job series. 

This support is specifically for federal firefighters, so it won't apply to firefighters with Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. 

However, according to the department, their 65 engines are fully staffed and they received a pay raise from the state earlier this year, so they'll start at $15.50 an hour. 

What this federal bill does mean for Montanans is there'll be increased funding available throughout the state for fire fighting, reducing risk of wildfires and improving the health of forests overall. 

The state's gearing up to apply for funding through the 'America the Beautiful' program and Community Wildfire Defense Grant. 

Wyatt Frampton, spokesperson for the DNRC, said the state's set up well for these opportunities because of the partnerships, the Montana Forest Action Plan and the Montana Wildfire Risk Assessment already in place. 

"We'll have opportunities for local communities to work with our partners to develop local strategies to allow them to directly address some of the wildfire issues that are facing those [specific] communities," Frampton said.

That means things like creating line of defenses near towns, prescribed burns, and planting native shrubs and grass, he explained.

These types of projects reduce fuels, but also improve water quality, maintain old growth characteristics and support the wood products industry, he added.

The funds haven't hit the ground yet, but Frampton expected the state to start applying for these opportunities in the coming weeks. 

As the department gears up for peak fire season, Frampton shared there's more grass in some areas of the state than there's been in several years, so as that grass dries out, Montanans can expect to see rapid growth in fires that start. 

Just because we had a wet spring, doesn't mean the state's out of the danger zone, Frampton said. It means it pushed it back some and is still very important to be cautious and prepare your homes.

For guidance on how to prepare your home, click here. 

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