The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Residents Encouraged to Remain Vigilant with Fire Safety and Prevention


August 4, 2021

The Chinook Volunteer Fire Department was again called out to a fire on July 31, joining forces with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to contain the 'Cow Fire'.

The fire burned approximately 100 acres down a steep coulee. A BLM Helicopter was on scene and at one point the CVFD and local landowners had a Type 6 Engine, a Type 5 Wildland Truck and a 20 man crew on scene.

So far rapid response from volunteer fire departments as well as landowners and state agencies have kept fires contained, precaution is still a high priority. With temperatures forecasted to remain hot and little precipitation on the radar the CVFD reminds residents of what it takes to prevent, prepare for and eventually fight a fire.

Blaine County residents have done a great job in not being responsible for any of these fires. Battling these blazes is dangerous and its noted that six Montana Firefighters have been hospitalized thus far.

The system in place to prepare for and contain these fires is quite extensive but the high points are as follows:

The Montana DNRC (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation) has a formal partnership with all 56 Montana Counties. Blaine County for instance firefighters provide primary initial fire attack and, in most cases, extended attack on all wildland fires. In return the DNRC will provide support in the form of organizational and technical assistance, fire equipment, fire training, and direct fire control assistance when needed. White DNRC engines are what people generally see first on local fires and are on loan to the county and staffed by local volunteer firefighters. Blaine County has eight DNRC engines and water tenders around the county in various fire stations and with local landowners that help with fires in that area.

If a wildfire, for whatever reason becomes more than can be contained by local volunteer fire departments and equipment then the DNRC is asked to help provide increased fire assistance including additional engines, helicopters, equipment, air tankers, whatever is required. This request comes at no cost to the county.

Once a call is placed to 911 then dispatch informs the appropriate volunteer fire department of the location of the fire. That department then makes the decision, based on information received from dispatch as to what resources are needed. In most cases the department will send the majority of available resources. An Incident Commander is established will be making the decisions and is who everybody needs to be contacting.

The Incident Commander generally arrives on the first vehicle on scene and may change as higher personnel arrive on site. The Command vehicle has more communication capabilities and does not fight the fire so that they maintain an overall view of the incident and can determine the next step moving forward. That step can include anything from calling for supplies requesting help from other departments or from the state or federal levels.

The Incident Commander also has to maintain constant contact with all on scene and be able to alert them to potential dangers including changes in weather and wind direction or speed. The information gathered by the Incident Commander and passed on to those fighting the fire as well as resources requested has saved many lives through the years.

After the fire is declared contained, the Incident Commander then has the responsibility in releasing firefighters from the scene while maintaining the integrity of the fire. Small burning embers hidden beneath debris can often rekindle a fire and personnel need to ensure that all hot spots are out.

Generally crews that traveled the furthest or who have home areas left unprotected are released first. Typically the Incident Commander and the firefighters first on scene will return for the next few days to ensure the fire is out. Landowners will be contacted and appraised of the situation.

The CVFD responds to and covers fire suppression for an are covering 2,040 miles with just 21 volunteers so anyone interested in helping the department is greatly requested to do so. Simply contact the CVFD and they will set you up with an interview.

Social media can be both an asset as well as a detriment for local fire departments. The asset being that the CVFD has been very active in relaying accurate and updated information regarding fire conditions, weather forecasts and fire currently being fought to local residents.

The detriment being the amount of time the CVFD has to spend dealing with rumors or misinformation being spread across the platforms. All pertinent and accurate information will be available in its Facebook page.

Folks seeing a fire being fought often want to either watch or be proactive and jump right on in to help. First things first though. It used to be that you drove to the fire, got out and then started hosing down the fire. Thats not the case today. The Incident Commander will tell you to remain in the cab and spray through the window. For safety reasons you are not allowed to ride on top the tank. Even though a resident may arrive on scene to help the Incident Commander is still responsible for safety of the entire scene.

Another item of discussion is alcohol on the scene. Even if you are just watching, or jump in to help out for a time. Alcohol is prohibited. All the trucks have plenty of sports drinks and water on hand to quench your thirst.

The CVFD and all the local volunteer fire departments as well as landowners are extremely appreciative of the residents of Blaine County for staying vigilant and being fire danger aware. At the same time one could very easily say "we have been very lucky considering conditions thus far".


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