Cooperation Helps Catch Fire

June 2009

A wildfire that started on the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in western Montana on April 13, 2009 threatened both habitat and structures, but interagency cooperation and a prompt response reduced losses from the fire.

Refuge staff noticed the smoke at 2:45 p.m. and within 20 minutes fire engines from Stevensville, Three Mile, and Florence Volunteer Fire Departments and the state Department of Natural Resource and Conservation were on the scene.

The fire, burning in thick grasses and cattails, had quickly grown to 40 acres. Driven by steady winds, the fire threatened private property and homes on the refuge’s eastern boundary. Crews took up a defensive position near the homes and stopped the fire from spreading south, but they were unable to attack the front of the fire because of the heat and intensity generated by the burning cattails and heavy grass cover. Later that afternoon, crews began backfiring operations on the north and west sides of the fire, securing the perimeter from further spread. The fire was controlled at 160 acres.  The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“We were able to save some large snags with active nests during our firing operations, but we lost one or two in the wetlands area from the wildfire itself,” Louis Hartjes, Mountain West District Fire Management Officer stationed at the refuge explained. “The losses were minimal considering the resources that were at risk,” he added.

Hartjes and Three Mile Volunteer Fire Department Chief Russ Guise used the opportunity to collaborate for future training between the department and refuge staff. The fire managers hope to incorporate an upcoming prescribed fire on the refuge as a way to provide live fire training for the local volunteer fire department’s wildland firefighter training.


Smoke drifts off of a fire started on the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.

Smoke drifts off of a fire started on the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge

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