In southeastern Montana there have been far fewer wildfires than in the western half of the state, thanks to a unique partnership between the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and local and volunteer firefighting agencies.

Cory Calnan, State Cooperative County fire Program Manager for the DNRC Fire Protection Bureau described what he called the county co-op program.

“At the statewide level we’re undertaking an effort to look at what we know as the county co-op program,” said Calnan. “This is where the state and the county partner on fire suppression activities in the rural areas of Montana. The DNRC provides the trucks, the training and the equipment to the local rural fire departments out there in exchange for those local fire departments performing the initial attack mission for DNRC.”

Calnan said when summer’s heat brings about high to extreme fire danger, that’s when the cooperation makes a  big difference in how quickly small fires can be put out.

“In periods of high fire danger, or high fire potential, the local office there works with the local fire departments and fire chiefs to make sure that volunteer firefighters are staffed and ready in the station and ready to go, so that when a fire does start, then they’re a little bit quicker to respond and don’t have to come from home. They can just get right in the fire truck and go,” he said.

Calnan said due to the high percentage of federally managed forests in western Montana, such as partnership could be difficult to manage. On example was the 2017 Lolo Peak Fire.

“To some extent, the Lolo Peak Fire occurred on federal lands and the ownership was under a little bit of different jurisdiction,” he said. “Whet we’re really focused on here is state and private land across Montana where the values at risk with me wanting to get the fires out quickly. I think the values at risk align with being able to put fires out quickly, and I think that’s what the county program does well, and that’s what we’re looking to bolster there.”

At the present, Yellowstone County is being used as a pilot for the program.