Amid fires, emergency officials urge county residents to join Smart911


Missoula County law enforcement and emergency officials are asking residents to sign up for the county’s Smart911 program, saying it will help responders implement orderly evacuations, if needed, ahead of regional wildfires.

Capt. Bill Burt of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department told members of the Lolo community that the reversed calling system will benefit area residents if the Lolo Peak fire changes course and encroaches on populated areas.

“I would encourage people, if they haven’t done so, to get involved in the Smart911 program,” Burt said. “It’s a good way for reversed notification to take place when we need to get a message out quickly to a particular area.”

Residents below the Lolo Peak fire and others down the Bitterroot Valley haven’t forgotten last year’s Roaring Lion fire, which made a dramatic run over the first few hours, destroying as many as 14 homes.

One man died of cardiac arrest during the mandatory evacuation.

While officials don’t expect the Lolo Peak fire to behave as the Roaring Lion did last August, they do expect the fire to remain active for the rest of the summer. Because of that, along with the unpredictable nature of fire and weather, they’re asking residents to be prepared.

“Some of the things you can do for us ahead of time in these preliminary evacuation moments is to have some plans in place,” Burt said. “If you have some animals or you know a neighbor who is in need of some extra assistance, let us know about that ahead of time.”

The Lolo Peak fire burns above the town of Lolo and is expected to continue creeping into September. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Nick Holloway with Missoula County DES said the Smart911 program could give emergency officials a precious head start if evacuations are issued.

As opposed to going from door-to-door over a wide rural area, emergency officials can notify all residents in a particular area with a text, email or phone call by using the reverse 9-1-1 system.

“We’ve had the system for years, we use it a lot and it works great, with one caveat,” Holloway said. “It only works as good as the number of people in the system. If you’re not in the system and you want to get an alert on your phone, it’s not going to happen.”

Those who join the system can also enter information they’d like emergency responders to know, such as allergies or physical handicaps. That gives responders a head’s up and saves time in an emergency situation.

Holloway also encouraged residents to make an evacuation plan, even if they’re never asked to leave.

“When an evacuation order comes, it comes now, so you gotta go when it comes and make sure you’re ready for it,” he said. “Get your medications in place, and make sure your animals have a place to go before you get that order to leave.”