BOUTON, Iowa — Most of western Montana is now experiencing extreme fire danger, and five DNR-trained wildland firefighters set out from Bouton Monday morning to battle the Hay Creek Fire in Montana’s Flathead National Forest.
Bouton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Karl Harris led the group, which included his son, Andrew Harris of Bouton, as well as Kate Reilly of Iowa City, Alex Billings of Pella and Melanie Schmidt of Elkhart. A sixth crew member, Pat Mescher of Halbur, was to be picked up en route.
Gail Kantak, a wildland fire supervisor in the Iowa DNR Forestry-Fire Program, said her department works in coordination with the US Forest Service (USFS) to train firefighters to national wildfire coordinating group (NWCG) standards and assist them with position qualifications and readiness standards.
“When firefighters meet those position qualifications, the USFS will hire them as casual hire-emergency firefighters in times such as this,” Kantak said. “They could be county conservation workers or volunteer fire department members or students — people from all walks of life take our training.”
She said emergency resources nationwide are spread pretty thin at present, and the Iowa DNR Forestry does the training and qualifications management and works with the USFS dispatch to make the firefighters available for situations such as these.
Kantak said that along with the six firefighters who left for Montana today with an engine and support truck, another five Iowans were part of a 20-person interagency crew from Iowa and Missouri that also went to Montana, and four Iowans were in another 20-person interagency crew from Iowa and Missouri that was sent to Colorado to assist with fire suppression there.
“We have an engine and three individuals from Iowa that are in Minnesota assist with fire suppression near the Chippewa National Forest,” she said. “Training and assisting these individuals is important to Iowa and nationally as they are able to gain valuable experience and bring those skills back to Iowa, while still providing valuable assistance to the national emergency fire response.”
The Hay Creek fire started July 21 and is burning in the Hay Creek drainage in the North Fork area of the Flathead National Forest.
According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, “The Hay Creek fire grew to over 1,006 acres Friday afternoon and is currently 4 miles west of Polebridge. The fire is burning in heavy decadent timber on steep slopes of the Hay Creek and South Fork Red Meadow drainages. Single and group tree torching, short-range spotting and short crown runs occurred throughout the afternoon. This moderate fire behavior combined with the heavy timber fuel type resulted in substantial smoke production. The fire is more active on drier south-facing slopes and under wind influence, but moderates on north-facing slopes. Today firefighting resources, including heavy equipment and hand-crews, will continue brushing out roads and improving fuel breaks on the Hay Creek, Red Meadow and Spruce Creek Roads.”
“Be safe,” said Kelly Harris of Bouton as she hugged her husband Karl, who is a 40-year veteran firefighter.