HELENA — Helena Fire Department leaders say the specific cause of last week’s wildfire on Mount Helena is “undetermined,” but they are convinced it was human-caused.
Fire Marshal Lou Antonick told MTN, after three days of investigation, they could find no evidence of what directly started it. However, there was no lightning, power line or apparent mechanical cause in the area. It began just off a trail, straight uphill from a water tower off Mt. Helena Drive.
Antonick said anyone who has additional information on the fire can contact HFD at (406) 447-8472 and ask for him.
In the aftermath of the fire – which burned 18 acres on the side of the mountain Aug. 28 – firefighters said immediately that they were grateful for recent fuels reduction work in the area. Last week, the city of Helena, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest all touted partnerships that have helped support active forest management throughout the South Hills area.
“We want a healthy forest, a resilient landscape,” said Heidi Crum, DNRC’s Helena unit manager. “Then that way when we do have a wildfire, we can help reduce the intensity of those burns, and that gives our firefighters a better chance of suppressing the fire.”
Programs like the Good Neighbor Authority allow federal, state and local agencies to work together on forest management. The state’s Montana Forest Action Plan and the U.S. Forest Service’s fire reduction strategy also emphasize the importance of working across multiple jurisdictions.
Crum said partnerships between agencies are especially important in areas like the South Hills, where federal, state and local government land and private holdings are all mixed together.
“We are working on projects that are cross-boundary work, which means we’re working on a landscape level, rather than an ownership level,” she said.
All along the side of Mount Helena, above and below the burned area, you can see piles of brush and timber that have been thinned throughout the year. Crum said those will be burned this fall or winter, when conditions are better.
Leaders say more fuel reduction work is planned later this year along the Rodney Ridge Trail, and they will also be burning piles in the Grizzly Gulch, Wakina Sky and Unionville areas.
For now, with more dangerous conditions coming, authorities say everyone has a part to play in reducing fire risk.
“We would ask people to be really mindful of their activities, and avoid anything that could spark a fire,” said Crum.
Crum said every resident should look at ways to do fire mitigation around their own home. Leaders also recommend making a wildfire action plan for yourself, your family members and pets. You can find more information on how to be prepared at MTFireInfo.org.