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Montana's Firefighting Fund Running On Empty

Aug 16, 2017
Montana is spending over a million dollars a day fighting wildfires. These are Goat Creek and Sliderock fires, July 23, 2017.
Inciweb

Montana's firefighting fund will run dry by the end of the week, forcing state officials to begin drawing money from emergency reserves to keep crews and equipment on the front lines of the country's worst collection of wildland fires.

As of today, more than $168 million of mostly federal money has gone into battling about 80 large fires that have charred more than 400,000 acres statewide.

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“This has been a difficult year," Democratic Governor Steve Bullock says. "By some estimates our fire seasons are now about 78 days longer than they were two decades ago.”
Credit Nate Hegyi / YPR

State climatologist Kelsey Jencso says what folks are seeing this summer -- extreme fires, sudden droughts, snowpacks melting quickly -- may be a vision of Montana’s future.

All three members of Montana’s congressional delegation have now commented on the events in Charlottesville.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Nicky Ouellet

The fate of over two dozen national monuments on federal land will be determined in just over a week. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will present his recommendations to President Donald Trump on August 24. They’ll outline which national monuments should be left alone, which should be scaled back, or perhaps even scrapped altogether.

Trump called the monument areas "a massive federal land grab" by previous administrations.

If you’re wondering what climate change will look like in Montana, state climatologist Kelsey Jencso says take a look outside. 

“This is certainly what the future may look like,” he says.

CIRA and NOAA

12:40 p.m. update from Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield:

Good afternoon, Welp. It got bad out there, folks.

Whitefish's community vigil for victims of the Charlottesville, VA, protests drew a large crowd for speeches, prayers and singing.
Nicky Ouellet

There have been many silent moments in Montana this week.

One in Whitefish Tuesday night was held in honor of people who died and were injured while counter-protesting a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday.

Inciweb

The size of the mandatory evacuation area along U.S. Highway 12 west of Lolo has been reduced.

At about 2:00 p.m. Missoula County’s Sheriff allowed residents along a 1.7  mile stretch of Highway 12 back into their homes. That stretch is on the east side of the evacuation area, it’s from mile marker 20 to 21.7.

The original evacuation order applied to about 165 residences. Today’s modification reduces that to about 150.

Confederate memorial in Helena, MT.
Courtesy Tom Kilmer in Helena, MT

Native American lawmakers in Montana are calling for the removal of a memorial to Confederate soldiers in the state's capitol city.

The granite fountain in Helena's Hill Park has been the subject of debate in recent years, as other cities across the country decide the fate of monuments erected to honor the legacy of the Confederacy.

Montana Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Pam Bucy
Courtesy

After almost five years on the job, Montana’s Commissioner of Labor and Industry, Pam Bucy, is moving into the private sector.

“I’m going to stay in Helena. I’m going to join a law firm, The Taylor Luther Group. We’ll be focusing primarily on business and employment law and government relations,” Bucy says.

More than $97 million in state budget reductions are scheduled to kick in August 15, and, across the state,, school districts are preparing to adapt to their share of the cut.

Funding for public education in Montana will decrease by about $19 million over the next two years as declines in state revenues mean across-the-board budget reductions to state agencies.

View from Polson beach area overlooking southern Flathead Lake. Smoke obscures the northern Mission Mountains on the afternoon of August 23, 2016.
Nicky Ouellet

A man who allegedly posed as a U.S. Coast Guard officer and attempted to pull over boats on Flathead Lake will make his first court appearance Wednesday in Lake County Justice Court.

Ryan Lowden of Polson will be charged with three felony counts of impersonating a public official.

Verde Creek night firing operation on the Sunrise fire.
Alan McGuire-Dale/Inciweb

Montana Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale says many homeowners insurance policies can help out with evacuation expenses.

“If you’re subject to a mandatory civil evacuation order many insurance policies will provide extra living expense coverage for up to two weeks,” he says.

The largest wildfire in the U.S. this year burned in Montana, decimating 423 miles of fertile rangeland, and with it, the livelihoods of many Garfield and Petroleum County ranchers.

Republican State Representative Bill Harris of Winnet was one of them. Harris documented much of the disaster that destroyed his ranchland on his personal Facebook. He’s pointing the finger at a nearby Wilderness Study Area (WSA) managed by the Bureau of Land Management as contributing to overall fire devastation.

Inciweb

Parts of Western Montana were breathing a little easier this morning after weekend thunderstorms brought with them cooler temperatures and increased humidity.

But the storms also prompted the evacuation of about 160 homes on either side of Highway 12 west of Lolo mid-day Sunday.

Montana's Health Co-op Remains Standing As Others Falter

Aug 14, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's health care co-op, one of America's few remaining alternatives to traditional health insurance, will resume accepting new enrollees Sunday after it voluntarily pulled itself from the state's insurance marketplace in December.

The insurer took the nine-month hiatus from enrolling new members in the exchange created by President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act to boost its financial reserves and keep it from the same fate that has befallen failed co-ops across the country.

About 30 coal cars in a Montana Rail Link freight train derailed this weekend along the Clark Fork River in northwestern Montana.

MRL spokesman Joe Lewis says the derailment happened at about 11 p.m. Sunday near Noxon, just east of the Idaho border.

One of the five helicopters DNRC has stationed around the state to fight wildfires.
Corin Cates-Carney

A few miles north of Lincoln, wildfires are burning more than 9,000 acres along steep slopes full of thick brush and snags.

Matt Conklin is a Forest Service incident commander. He says these fires are among the few that escaped initial attacks to put them out.

Inciweb

Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield's latest air quality report:

"Good news, everyone! The air is as good as it looks and smells! We're looking at generally Good to Moderate air quality everywhere but Seeley Lake. Not only can you see the mountains, you can see the trees on the mountains. 

Lolo Peak Fire, August 10, 2017.
Inciweb

Updated 6:30 p.m.

Encouraging news from Lolo Peak Fire spokesman Mark Struble: Now that the cold front has passed through western Montana, the winds have significantly abated, a little bit of rain fell and relative humidity spiked up to about 50-percent for a while.

Verde Creek night firing operation on the Sunrise fire.
Alan McGuire-Dale/Inciweb

8/12   9 p.m.

Trout Creek Road from Magone Ranch (near Pellet Mill) southwest through the fire area is in Stage 3 evacuation, meaning residents need to leave their homes, as of 7 a.m. Saturday. Quartz Creek, Cougar Gulch, and Verde Creek are also in Stage 3 evacuation. 

Sarah Coefield from the Missoula City-County Health Department talks about the hazards of the smoke in Seeley Lake at a public meeting Thursday, August 10, 2017.
Eric Whitney

About 250 people filled most of the bleachers at Seeley Lake elementary school Thursday night to get the latest update on the Rice Ridge fire.

Somewhat unusual for a fire meeting was for the crowd to hear from someone from the county health department about air quality concerns, but Sarah Coefield, an air quality specialist with Missoula City-County Health, said smoke pollution levels have repeatedly hit hazardous levels.

Cause Of Statewide Canine Respiratory Disease Still Unknown
(PD)

The Department of Livestock and local veterinarians are monitoring an outbreak of severe canine respiratory disease in Montana.

Veterinarians in Bozeman, Livingston, Billings, Butte, Big Timber, Roundup and Red Lodge have reported seeing dogs with coughing, difficulty breathing and fever.

Malinda Goldhirsch makes the initial attack on a fire near her home that started due to downed powerlines Thursday night.
Libby Goldhirsch

The dry thunderstorm that swept through the Flathead area last night set off dozens of spot fires, left about 5,000 houses without power for hours and previews what’s to come this weekend as a new weather front moves in.

Malinda Goldhirsch lives in Whitefish and got a firsthand taste of the powerful storm while watching TV with her family.

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 11, 2017

Aug 11, 2017
National Park Service/Seth King

The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office has expanded the evacuation warning area associated with Lolo Peak Fire.  The alert reads as follows:

Due to this weekend’s impending Red Flag weather event, the evacuation warning area for Highway 12 near Lolo has been expanded now to include both the north and south sides of the highway from mile post 20 at Bear Creek to Fort Fizzle.

Inciweb

Today's air report courtesy of Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield:

"The Canadian smoke that mixed down yesterday is still with us this morning, causing thick haze and air quality ranging from Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy across most of Missoula County.

Lincoln County Sheriff Facebook

The smoke pouring into a Seeley Lake from a nearby wildfire has gotten so bad that health officials are warning residents to leave the area, or at least find somewhere else to sleep at night when the smoke is at its worst.

Seeley Lake registered air pollution levels Thursday morning 38 times above what the World Health Organization says is safe. The hazardous air prompted the Missoula City-County Health Department to recommend for the first time ever that an entire community just leave their homes for clearer skies.

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Bureau of Land Management

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will decide whether to shrink or eliminate 22 national monuments later this month. As Yellowstone Public Radio’s Brie Ripley reports, these monuments are significant money-makers for business owners across the West, who met in Helena and Great Falls Wednesday to discuss their concerns.

In Montana outdoor recreation generates nearly $6 billion in consumer spending annually, and supports over 60,000 jobs.

County election officials criticized Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton Thursday morning for his repeated allegations of voter fraud, and for poor communication with them since taking office.
Corin Cates-Carney

County election officials criticized Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton Thursday morning for his repeated allegations of voter fraud, and for poor communication with them since taking office. County officials aired their grievances during a speech by Stapleton at a training session at the Montana Clerk and Recorder Convention in Fairmont.

The Secretary of State and county election officials have butted heads ever since Stapleton took office.

Extremely unhealthy air has prompted the health department to recommend that people should leave Seeley Lake, or at least try to sleep somewhere else. This view of the smoke from Seeley Lake was captured on the afternoon of August 10, 2017.
Eric Whitney

Wednesday, Missoula County's health department made the unprecedented recommendation that an entire town, Seeley Lake, evacuate because of pollution from wildfire smoke. Eric Whitney has more on where that recommendation came from, and how it's being received.

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