Montana Fires Continue to Burn

By Jared Hammer on September 14, 2017

Members of the Bureau of Land Management bravely enter the fire. (Photo credit: Cody Phillips, sourced from flickr.com)

The Montana fires are still burning, and they have been nearly the entire summer. While fires have come to be expected in my state’s summer months, this season has brought record breaking temperatures and drought.

So far, two firefighters have lost their lives: 29-year-old Brent Whitham and fellow Montana State student, Trent Johnson. Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes, as nearly half a million acres of Montanan land continues to burn, leaving our air quality in varying degrees of unhealthy.

My little college town is nestled right in the mountains, but our view of the slopes is completely obscured by thick layers of smoke. Although the state has declared Bozeman’s air quality as “moderate,” my lungs would like to disagree with that statement. I shudder to think what it must be like in the towns west, where air quality has been declared “very unhealthy,” where the townsfolk have been wearing construction-grade face masks to keep the ash out of their lungs.

Transportation has also become an issue for Montanans, as Highway 200 has been closed the last two weekends in a row. The fires have continued to get too close to roadways, resulting in miles of blocked off highway access. With heavy smoke and brave firemen on the site, the area is not currently suited for public transportation.

To top things off, the fires have been a huge threat to our national parks as well. One historic site has already been destroyed in Glacier National Park, and further damage to public land is happening by the minute.

A Bureau of Land Management veteran takes on the flames in August. (Photo by Cody Phillips of BLM, sourced by flickr.com)

In the shadow of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, the seriousness of the fires in the western states has largely been downplayed by the mass media, leaving many people to call it the crisis no one is talking about. No doubt, we need to be helping the people affected by the hurricane disasters, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the fires spreading in Montana, Idaho, California, and Oregon.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that even our federal government has not been taking the matter very seriously, as Trump-appointed head of FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency), Brock Long, initially turned down our state’s request for federal aid in July. Thankfully, our state’s administration was able to change his mind. One would hope that the head of FEMA would be able to recognize the scale and terrifying potential of massive fires, but instead, he chose to waste time and fan the flames a little first. Emergencies are a time to act, not play political mind games.

On an unfortunately humorous note, according to USNews, “Bullock, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester all rushed out statements taking credit for the grant’s approval.”

In light of these moments, I urge Montanans to think more critically about who they vote for. We need politicians who take action to protect our land, our safety, and our freedoms. We don’t need clowns who simply take credit for other people’s work.

Time is valuable in controlling a fire, which is why Senators Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo have been pushing their Wildfire Disaster Funding Act since 2013, in an effort to give us preparedness for the fire seasons to come. Currently, they are requesting to have wildfires tagged on with the disaster aid efforts being sent through to Congress regarding the relief efforts of Hurricane Harvey.

No matter how it comes into law, having funds set aside to fight natural disaster is necessary on both state and federal levels. We need to be able to ensure the safety of our citizens as well as our economy. It’s currently uncertain how big of a hit the livestock industry is taking as a result of the fires, but to put things into perspective, farmers are more concerned with the state of their livestock rather than their own homes. I have not yet found numbers for how many acres of farmland have been destroyed, and how many animals have perished in the flames, but considering the acreage lost already, I would find it unsurprising if our ranches and farms have already taken a massive hit this year.

HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP

Readers who would like to see the fire locations, and even track how they are spreading/diminishing can use this resource from the Defense and National Rehabilitation Center. If you would like to know how you can help those affected by the fires, this article from Prairie Populist offers an excellent list of charitable organizations currently providing assistance.

Please consider sending donations to help Montana get through this harsh summer. Your thoughts and prayers are nice, but money is what is going to help get Montanan families back on their feet.

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