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Montana Hotshot crews return from fighting Canadian wildfire

Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-24 20:05:16-04

KALISPELL – The Flathead Hotshots have returned home after fighting the 800,000-acre Chuckegg Fire in Alberta.

Squad leader Matt Delaney, who has been with the Flathead Hotshots crew for seven years, told MTN News that Alberta is in a three-year drought, which is partially the cause of the Canadian wildfire.

“Particularly, that northern part of Alberta is a three-year drought, so it’s significant. It’s noticeable. We were in areas that normally where you’d have soggy feet walking in and it was dry,” explained Delaney.

Hotshot crews have a special job as they hand dig fire lines and move water hoses up to 15 hours a day. Shale Pagel, who has been with the Flathead Hotshots for three years, says the daily grind is exhausting.

“The cumulative fatigue of consecutive assignments back to back builds up, and no matter how much rest you get it’s hard to shake it off,” Pagel said.

The bigger question: Could Montana see a fire as large as Chuckegg this year?

Flathead Hotshots Superintendent Shawn Borgen says that Montana has been lucky with its weather so far. The wet, cool and humid rainy weather the Flathead has been seeing really helps prep for fire season.

Borgen told MTN News that the state needs to see this kind of weather consistently in order to maintain a “low” to “average” fire season.

“This year, that dryness is affecting that part of the continent, that latitude. The moisture they would usually get this time of year has shifted south because of the movement of the jet stream and other factors. So that moisture is coming in across the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies right now,” explained Borgen.

Unfortunately, Borgen says Montana could see a lot of smoke from the Chuckegg fire this summer.

“No one can control the way the wind blows.  So, you know, we could very well be dealing with smoke from Canada a lot this summer,” he said.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality reports that the state’s current air quality is good. You can check out the latest air quality readings here.

Story by Maren Siu, MTN News