Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The one question from reporters hanging over each member of the Fire Season Briefing press conference in Helena on Wednesday was ‘What will the upcoming fire season look like’?

Adriane Beck, Director of the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management was at the briefing representing the Montana County Fire Wardens Association and summed up the opening question succinctly.

“People always ask ‘What’s the fire season going to look like?’ Oftentimes we simply say ‘We’ll tell you in October’," she said.

Another spokesperson said ‘It’s just too soon to tell’.

Too Soon to Tell What the Upcoming Wildfire Season Will Bring

That being said, Governor Greg Gianforte took that statement and expanded on it as he opened the press conference.

“While we cannot control the weather, we can take steps to mitigate the risk of severe wildfires by continuing to focus on two things,” began Gianforte. “First, aggressive attack on all fires, and secondly, active forest management. With every fire, we must respond with one goal to put the fire out as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Gianforte also addressed the extremely dry conditions the state faces after a winter with very little snow.

Gianforte stated 'We Have a Forest Health Crisis'

“Unfortunately, we have a forest health crisis,” he said. “I mean, you just have to drive 10 miles west of Helena here (and you’ll see that) 90 percent of the standing timber is dead, and when that catches on fire, there's nothing that's going to stop it. We need to couple this aggressive attack with active forest management to reduce the fuel load, so we're won’t be in a position where we see these catastrophic fires.”

Matt Hall, DNRC (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation) Bureau Chief, said he is optimistic about staffing for the upcoming fire season.

Staffing for Firefighting Agencies also Discussed

“Its more important than ever that we continue to modernize, grow, and develop our wildfire workforce and we look forward to continuing that work,” said Hall. “Today, fire management officers are actively recruiting and filling firefighting positions. I know we have a number of open fire jobs still posted today, but we anticipate over the course of the next few weeks, filling those positions fully with all of our seasonal staffing.”

One area experiencing difficulties filling their firefighting positions is on the state’s Indian lands, according to Bryce Rogers, Regional Management Officer of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who responded to a question from a reporter.

“So for tribal, we've seen in the last couple of years 60 percent vacancies,” said Rogers. “We just started moving forward with some hiring, so that's a plus on our side, but we're starting to see some changes coming in the future. So, yeah, 60 percent (vacancies). One of the challenges is housing at some locations. Some of the locations are just tough to get any folks moved up into middle management.”

View the Governor’s Fire Season Briefing here.

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Gallery Credit: Jesse James

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