Western Wildfires

A firefighter is seen along the edge of a wildfire burning on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. In southeastern Montana, communities in and around the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation were ordered to evacuate as the Richard Spring Fire grew amid erratic winds.

(The Center Square) – Montana’s wildfire season is raging as blazes threaten ranchlands and communities, and the state continues to endure drought conditions.

To date, more than 2,000 wildfires burned or are burning over 825,000 acres across the state and consuming 50 primary residences, according to Kristin Sleeper, Forest Action Plan Program manager for the Montana Department of Natural Resources.

“We have worked to provide safe and effective fire response, but we are all strained by a fire season that is already record-setting,” Sleeper told The Center Square. “We are experiencing intense competition for resources that is placing undue stress on our state, local, and volunteer firefighting capacity.”

Some parts of Montana did see rain recently; however, Sleeper said the majority of the state still remains in drought, and the risk of fire remains above normal through October, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

“Given this forecast, it is more important than ever to recognize that while we can’t control the weather, we can control our actions,” she said. “One of the best ways to reduce wildfire risk to our homes, families, and communities is by preventing fire from occurring in the first place. Approximately 80% of wildland fires in Montana are caused by humans, burning an average of 70,000 acres per year.”

A blaze near the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation induced several evacuation orders, one for the town of Lame Deer where the tribal headquarters are located and another around the town of Ashland, PBS reported. The Lame Deer fire has caused extensive damage to ranchers’ pastureland.

“We are facing critical fire conditions that pose significant threats to our communities, infrastructure, firefighters, and ways of life,” she said. “Though fire is a crucial component of a healthy forest, it can pose a challenge and risk for people who live in fire-prone landscapes.”

Sleeper said wildfire smoke is known to have negative impacts on human health, and those dealing with the pollution should take precautions.

“To protect one’s health from the impacts of wildfire smoke it is recommended that members of the public check air quality reports before engaging in outdoor activities, limit time spent outdoors, keep windows and doors closed, and use an air purifier or recirculating AC if available,” she said.

Residents can check real time smoke monitoring data at svc.mt.gov/deq/todaysair/.