HELENA, Mont. – As warmer, drier summer months approach the City of Helena is preparing for wildfire season by continuing with fuels reduction efforts on the City’s open lands. The City strategically conducts fuels reduction throughout the year to limit overgrowth and help promote a healthier ecosystem.
“Within Helena’s open spaces, forest management activities are designed to restore ecosystems by lowering tree densities,” says Helena Open Lands Manager, Brad Langsather. “For over a century, our grasslands have been overtaken by thickets of conifers, which poses several risks to the ecosystem. By reducing some of the trees, we will ultimately have larger, stronger trees that will prove to be more resilient to insect outbreaks and wildfires.”
The City completes its fuels reduction work in two phases. During the spring, summer and fall, the City contracts with a crew to thin trees. During snow-covered months, Open Lands staff burn slash piles to complete the fuels reduction process. This past winter, the City was able to complete approximately 10 acres of slash pile burning within the Mount Helena park. This spring, the City has already completed 85 acres of thinning on Mount Ascension and another 40 acres on Mount Helena.
Upcoming fuels reduction projects include further thinning on Mount Helena, as well as Nob Hill. The City saw the benefits of fuels reduction work last summer when a fire started on Nob Hill. Thanks to previous fuels reduction work, firefighters were able to contain the fire with minimal damage and no significant threat to nearby homes.
“Three general factors affecting wildfire behavior are weather, topography, and the fuels involved,” says Helena Fire Chief, Jon Campbell. “Fuel reduction is the primary factor to be managed to protect communities from wildfire. The Forest Service, DNRC, and City of Helena have been working diligently to manage the open lands in and around Helena. These efforts reduce the severity of wildfire and make responding to fire incidents safer and less likely to result in catastrophic life and property losses. This was evident at the Nob Hill Fire last year.”