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High fire danger: Why fireworks aren't a good idea this year in Yellowstone County

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Posted at 6:33 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 20:34:20-04

BILLINGS — Lockwood Fire Capt. Keith Kober encouraged Yellowstone County residents to help prevent costly and destructive wildfires by preparing their rural homes and not lighting off fireworks during upcoming Independence Day celebrations.

"I understand that the fireworks stands are still going to be open, but I really discourage the people from discharging fireworks, because the danger is just too high," Kober told MTN News on Wednesday.

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Lockwood Fire Captain Keith Kober speaks with MTN News at the Frates residence in the Emerald Hills subdivision. Kober said the Frates property is a good example of wildfire mitigation.

Fire danger signs around Lockwood listed conditions as "very high" on Wednesday. Kober said Lockwood firefighters have had quick attacks on grass fires that have popped up so far this year, with the largest being five acres.

However, the Lockwood firefighters have seen grass fires every month since December 2020.

Moisture is not predicted to come before the Fourth of July weekend. Fire conditions have the potential to move to "extreme" soon, Kober said.

“The grass that’s around, you can actually walk on it and hear it crunch. So you know it’s really dry. The fire risk is on the borderline of getting extreme," Kober said.

On Tuesday, members of the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners signed stage two fire restrictions into effect. The restrictions prohibit people from building campfires and operating internal combustion engine equipment between 1 p.m. and 1 a.m., among other rules.

The stage two restrictions also prohibit the use of fireworks, which are typically associated with Independence Day celebration, especially outside of Billings city limits where they are normally legal, barring fire restrictions.

But fireworks combined with the dry conditions have one couple in the Lockwood Emerald Hills subdivision worried.

“This is a forest. It’s not like downtown on the flats. There’s quite a bit of trees," said Ron Frates, who lives in an Emerald Hills home with his wife Mavis.

Ron and Mavis Frates, the owners of a home in Emerald Hills in Lockwood. They've been preparing their home for wildfire for the past 10 years.

"The biggest concern is that we know what we’re going to do. We’re pretty well established as such, but you wonder sometimes about neighbors and if they use fireworks. Which you are not supposed to, but they might start a fire. Then it would become a problem for everybody, especially us if it’s close by," Frates continued.

Kober said the couple's property is a shining example of proper fire mitigation for a home right in the thick of wildland fire fuel.

“A lot of people have a misinterpretation that we’re asking people to cut their trees down. We’re actually not. The trees are a very important aspect of why people live where they live. However, what we’re asking for is if they could limb the ladder fuels, the fuels that can easily ignite and go up into the trees and cause larger scale fires," Kober said.

Kober said it is good practice for property owners to mow their grass for a significant perimeter around their home. As well, they should de-limb trees in excess of six feet off the ground. That lessens the likelihood a fire will climb into the trees, where it can burn stronger and longer.

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“A lot of times, (mitigation) doesn’t mean that a fire can’t burn. If it’s coming up out of a draw below us, there’s significant ladder fuels there that people have no control over. But if the fire stays lower in the lower ground fuels, it makes the homes very defensible," Kober said.

Kober said it's also a good idea for property owners to keep their gutters clean, keep their grass as green as possible with watering and have a water hose handy.

The Lockwood firefighters provide fire mitigation consulting for homeowners who have questions, Kober said. They offer a DVD for people to take home, or a fire professional can come to the property in person. To learn more, visit the Lockwood Fire District website by clicking here.

To learn more about wildfire mitigation and find wildfire prevention resources for people located outside of Yellowstone County, visit the state Department of Natural Resource Conservation web site by clicking here.

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