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U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) says the U.S. Senate needs to do its job and pass a bill on health care. This on the news that the Senate Majority Leader plans to hold a vote next week even though it is unclear as of Friday what lawmakers will be voting on.

A MAFFS-equipped C-130 Hercules from the 302nd Airlift Wing makes a water drop over New Mexico during a training exercise, May 2007.
Technical Sergeant Rick Sforza, United States Air Force (4th Combat Camera Squadron). PD.

The federal government has activated a large military airtanker to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in the West. Ken Palmrose is a public information officer with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

"Right now it’s going to be stationed at Fresno, California and it will probably be working there in California starting tomorrow," says Ken Palmrose, a public information officer with the Fire Center.

From the Goat Creek Fire incident management team
InciWeb

There are now more large wildfires burning in Montana than any other state. At least 18 large fires are consuming both forests and grasslands in eastern and western Montana.

That’s according to the National Interagency Fire Center, which says, “critical fire weather conditions are expected across the northwestern U.S."

File photo
Eric Whitney

There are two community meetings about wildfires burning on the I-90 corridor. Both are at 7 p.m.

Tonight's (Fri 7/21), for the Goat Creek Fire, is at the Clinton Fire Department, located at 12300 US Highway 10 East in Clinton.

Tomorrow Night's (Sat 7/22), for the Sunrise Fire, is at the Lozeau Lodge Pavilion, Lozeau Lodge, 31 Westfall Road Quartz-Lozeau , MT (I-90 Exit 55).

Grayback Forestry President Mike Wheelock, right, and employees at a press conference at the company's Missoula facility Thursday
Eric Whitney

At a press conference Thursday, Mike Wheelock, the president of the company that employed 19-year-old firefighter Trenton Johnson was visibly shaken while giving details of the accident that killed Johnson on Wednesday.

"We just ask that you keep the family in your prayers, and the fellow workers, and all the firefighters that are out there right now on the line," he said, choking up. 

Elsie Arntzen, Montana's Superintendent of Public Instruction,  says the coming cuts could make work very challenging at schools moving forward.
PD

Montana’s K-through-12 schools could face millions of dollars in cuts next month if state revenues don’t improve. The state Office of Public Instruction warned education groups and teachers’ unions about the possible hit to the agency’s budget during a meeting Thursday afternoon.

At the helicopter base for the Sliderock Fire on the Lolo National Forest Wednesday
InciWeb

Updated 12:53 am

The Monahan Fire on the Lolo National Forest in the Seeley Lake District has moved onto the Flathead National Forest in the Southern Spotted Bear Ranger District. The fire is predicted at 175 acres, with just a few of those acres on the Flathead National Forest. This is a high elevation fire, managed for fire to play its natural role. Trails are closed at Limestone Pass and Blackfoot Divide.

Mike Wheelock, president of Merlin, Oregon-based Grayback Forestry in Missoula Thursday
Eric Whitney

This story was updated at 3:30pm.

Trenton Johnson was on just his second assignment for Oregon-based Grayback Forestry when he was struck by a falling tree.

Today's bill signing ceremony at the capitol
Corin Cates-Carney

Governor Steve Bullock formally signed a slate of bills today aiming to address the state’s problem of overcrowded prisons.

A firefighting helicopter flies over Missoula recently
Eric Whitney

Updated 6:20 pm:

A lightning strike near Lincoln grew into a nearly 200-acre blaze today. The Arrastra Fire is burning in very steep terrain a few drainages west of the 1,800-acre Park Creek Fire.

Peri Suenram, public information officer for the Park Creek Fire, says the new blaze is on a steep, heavily timbered hillside burning through beetle-killed trees.

"It's still initial attack," Suenram says. "There are 30 people up on the hill and they are using a helicopter on it doing bucket work."

Dr. Shawna Yates is Medical Director of the Southwest Montana Community Health Center
Corin Cates-Carney

As the nation faces an epidemic of opioid drug abuse after a decade of aggressively prescribing narcotics , Montana doctors are becoming more cautious about giving painkillers to chronic pain patients.

It’s changing some patients ability to get treatment and what is considered compassionate care for chronic pain.

Boat inspections are mandatory at City Beach and Whitefish Lake State Park this season
Nicky Ouellet

As the state ramps up its efforts this year to screen boats for invasive species, some local groups have taken inspections into their own hands.

The City of Whitefish and the Whitefish Lake Institute, for example, have been running two city-funded mandatory check stations since Memorial Day at the only public boat launches on Whitefish Lake. The Whitefish Lake Institute, a local nonprofit that monitors water quality on the lake, also runs a decontamination station.

Gov. Steve Bullock in his office in Helena, MT.
Corin Cates-Carney

As Governor Steve Bullock begins his final term, the Democrat is starting to raise money with ambitions of stepping onto the national political stage. 

A helicopter drops water on the Slide Rock Fire on July 14th
InciWeb

Updated 6:05 pm

Fire officials in the greater Flathead Valley say there’s been 86 wildfires reported in the area since July 1, and at least half of them are human caused. The area is currently pegged at “Very High” fire danger, as hot, dry conditions and almost daily lightning storms persist.

Lincoln Chute is the fire manager for Flathead County Office of Emergency Services.

Corin Cates-Carney

Doctors in Montana are cutting down on the amount of painkillers they’re prescribing in response to the nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse, and that’s having some unintended consequences.

The Montana-based producers of the movie “Unbranded” have a new documentary opening at the Babcock Theater in Billings this Thursday.

It’s called “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story” and it's about a man who was struck with 2,400 volts of electricity and survived.

A group of 25 college students from Iraq are in Montana, as part of a Young Leaders Exchange Program arranged by the U.S. State Department and the University of Montana.
Natalie Dawson, director of the Wilderness Institute

A group of 25 college students from Iraq are in Montana, as part of a Young Leaders Exchange Program arranged by the U.S. State Department and the University of Montana. The three-week tour is focused on international peace building through studies in environmental and cultural preservation.

A crew on the Lazier Creek 3 Fire Sunday
InciWeb

Updated 6:50 pm

In addition to the Lolo Peak Fire, several other fires on the Lolo National Forest include a pair on the Ninemile ranger district. Those are the approximately three acre Sunrise Fire, located ten miles south of Superior, and the estimated 12-mile Burdette Fire is located about nine miles southeast of Tarkio. That fire showed minimal activity yesterday.

On the Seeley Lake Ranger District, the Monahan Fire is located about 17 miles north of Ovando and is burning near the Wilderness boundary in remote terrain.

Left to Right: Clinical social worker Andy Laue; First Step social worker MC Jenni; Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst; Missoula Deputy County Attorney Brittany Williams; Missoula Deputy County Attorney Jordan Kilby
Edward O'Brien

Missoula’s County Attorney says helping victims of violent crime is deeply rewarding work.

But Kirsten Pabst adds there’s also a dark side to the job that’s not talked about enough.

“Prosecutors have a really high incidence of turnover, burnout and a really high incidence of suicide," Pabst says. "What we’re learning now, finally, is that doing this kind of work, which is good work and helping real people, isn’t sustainable unless you take care of it and process the trauma that we’re exposed to every day.” 

Wildfire Roundup For July 15, 2017

Jul 15, 2017
Crews constructing line on the Rogers Mtn Fire
Inciweb

Update: 5:15 p.m., 07/15/17

In Lewis & Clark County west of Wolf Creek, homes have been evacuated on Lynx Trail Drive, Whispering Pines Road, North Lyons Creek Road. Anyone who has been evacuated may find shelter at the Wolf Creek School.

Jeff Mangan is Montana's new commissioner of political practices.
Corin Cates-Carney

The chair of Montana’s utility regulators violated state ethics during the 2016 election, according to a decision released today by Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices.

Some of the crews fighting the July fire on Friday morning
InciWeb

Update 4:15 PM:

New fires are cropping up and emergency officials are preparing for potentially dangerous fire weather over the weekend. About 2:00 this afternoon evacuations started east of Roundup due to a fire estimated at 2,000 acres that was discovered this morning.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter for evacuees in Roundup, it is unclear at this time how many people might be displaced.

Dancers at the Arlee  Esyapqeyni in June
Eric Whitney

Funding for a Native American language preservation program could get cut next month if revenues don’t increase as the state fiscal year comes to an end. 

The State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee was briefed by legislative staff Thursday that budget cuts will be triggered in mid-August.

Amy Carlson, a Legislative Fiscal Analyst, says state revenues have continued falling below projections since lawmakers passed the state budget in April.

Josh Burnham

Senator Jon Tester is ripping the new Senate health care bill, Senator Steve Daines says he needs more time to study it.

In a press release, Democrat Tester said, “This pig just got more lipstick, but still smells like a pigpen.” He said the bill will rip away coverage from thousands of Montanans, deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and impose a, quote, “age tax” on people in their 50s and 60s.

Interim Indian Health Service Director Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee
YouTube

Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester wants to know how the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget will affect the Indian Health Service.

So, on Wednesday Tester turned to the troubled agency’s new acting director, Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee for answers.

It didn’t go well.

Weahkee could not explain how much money IHS is billing Medicaid to help keep the agency running.

Dustin White, the Chippewa-Cree tribal water director, says it is one of the worst water shortages he’s ever seen on the Rocky Boy's reservation.

“I’m at the mercy of the weather right now,” White says.

Within two weeks, as many as 3,000 people could run out of water as relentless hot temperatures, a drought and a failed water storage tank cause water supplies to fall to critically low levels near the town of Box Elder in north-central Montana. 

A member of the Flathead Hotshots walks the fire line at the edge of a prescribed burn near Lakeside this spring
Nicky Ouellet

Fire season arrived in Montana this month. As crew leaders set up command centers and assess the flames, they’re seeing the product of previous management decisions that have shaped the forest.

A firefighter was struck by a falling tree and killed while fighting fire in the Lolo National Forest Wednesday.
InciWeb

Updated 10:45 AM.

In Northwest Montana:

Weather conditions kept behavior of the Lazier Creek 3 Fire "moderate" yesterday, firefighters report. Today's estimate of the fire's size remaines at 1,145 acres, and 30 percent contained, the same as yesterday. There are 176 personnel assigned to the fire.

The fire is located south of Highway 2 and west of the Thompson River Road.

A Forest Service helicopter near Missoula, MT.
Lane Lamoreaux (PD)

The State of Montana’s fleet of firefighting helicopters remains unable to to fight some fires on federal land, and Wednesday a state legislative council asked for action. It’s been a years-long struggle.

(PD)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’ll have an updated health care bill ready Thursday for the legislative body to work on.

In a press call with reporters, Montana’s Democratic  Senator Jon Tester said he’s willing to work with Republicans on compromise health care legislation.

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