GREAT FALLS — Governor Greg Gianforte announced on Thursday afternoon that he is ordering two Montana National Guard helicopter support modules, including 24 soldiers, on to State Active Duty for 15 days to support the state’s wildfire response.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) submitted a request earlier on Thursday for military support to aid in wildland fire suppression efforts.
The Montana National Guard will provide a UH-60 Black Hawk crew and support personnel that will operate from Billings to support fire suppression efforts for eastern Montana.
A CH-47 Chinook crew and support personnel will operate from Helena and provide support for the western side of the state.
On Wednesday, Gianforte received a briefing from fire management professionals at the DNRC. The DNRC said that as of as of Wednesday, July 21, at around noon, there are 19 large fire incidents in Montana. The state remains in Preparedness Level 5, and the Northern Rockies region is the number one priority region in the nation. Because of threats to structures, the Alder Creek Fire - burning in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest - is the number one priority fire in the nation.
The DNRC said that since January 1, there have been 1,500 fire starts in Montana burning around 200,000 acres, with more than 500 starts this month. The briefing included an overview of the fire landscape, a weather report, and an update on wildland firefighting costs since the beginning of the state’s fiscal year on July 1st. Montana entered the fiscal year with the Fire Suppression Fund at its statutory maximum of roughly $105 million. Officials estimate that nearly $8.9 million from the fund have been spent fighting fire since the start of the state’s current fiscal year.
“These Montana National Guard soldiers are well-trained and well-prepared for this mobilization. On behalf of a grateful state, I want to thank these soldiers for joining our courageous firefighters and first responders on the frontlines in our state’s wildfire response,” Gianforte said in a news release.
As wildland fire incidents emerge and develop, additional requests for National Guard support will be considered, and future deployments of helicopter and ground support will be evaluated.