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Wildland fire risks
under study in Condon

by Suzanne Vernon

For the Pathfinder
July 16, 1998

Fire managers in the Swan Valley are mapping neighborhoods and ranking them according to wildland fire risk, an effort that may lead to more efficient emergency services in the Condon area.

Currently no community-wide emergency evacuation or notification plan exists for the Condon area.

According to Allen Branine, fire manager at the Swan River State Forest north of Condon, Montana Department of Natural Resources, many Swan Valley homes may be at risk in the event of wildland fire because of modern forest conditions. Branine spoke to about 20 people at a recent Ad Hoc meeting in Condon.

Most Swan Valley homes are located in the middle of dense stands of timber where fires may burn with lethal severity, Branine said.

He explained that in 1988 risk rating surveys determined that 500 structures existed in the Swan Valley from the Summit north to Goat Creek. By 1996, that number had increased to 800 structures.

The Department of Natural Resources is working with the local volunteer fire department on the current project.

The Swan River State Forest is responsible for wildland fire protection in the valley bottom near Condon. The Swan Valley Volunteer Fire Department, which is in the process of forming a tax-based fire district, is responsible for structure fires in the area. Both organizations work with Missoula County's 9-1-1 dispatch system during emergencies.

Glenda Wallace, who helped develop a fire protection plan for the Missoula area, also spoke at the recent meeting, citing examples of emergency preparedness programs that worked in Missoula.

Several people in the audience questioned whether plans that worked in urban areas could work in a rural community. Wallace explained that the Missoula fire protection plans were developed with input from local residents, and she encouraged people in the Swan Valley to help write their own emergency services plan.

Local sawmill owner and retired forester, Bud Moore, agreed with Wallace that local residents should be involved so that fire prevention programs will be successful.

"If you want something to work, local people have to be involved in it, that's just the history of this community," Moore said.

Moore praised local residents for their fire awareness, explaining that people here often take initiative to implement fire prevention measures around their homes, and also spot forest fires on their own.

Moore also said that he liked what he heard at the recent meeting, that people should get the word out and develop a better method of contacting each other in emergencies. "But you've got a lot to build on here," he said, explaining that people are very willing to help each other in a small community.

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