Bill expands initial attack authority on wildfires to counties

“This really is my attempt I guess to try and get people moving quicker, or see how it is we can get things happening faster,” said Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls.

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – A bill entering the Montana House would allow counties to have initial attack authority on wildfires if they believe they can move more quickly, or if they have more resources than the agency responsible for fire protection in the affected area.

Rep. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls, said he doesn’t want House Bill 481 to force counties to do anything, or to interfere with any existing firefighting partnerships.

“This really is my attempt I guess to try and get people moving quicker, or see how it is we can get things happening faster,” Brown said.

He said his interest was sparked several years ago when a fire was burning outside of Helena on federal land. Even though there were outfitted state aircraft available, the state was unable to use them on the fire, since the planes were not certified by the U.S. Forest Service, he said.

Under the bill, whatever agency is fighting the fire would be able to use any equipment or resources available to them.

Also under the bill, if the county moves in and begins suppression efforts, whoever is in charge of the area would be responsible for repaying the county for any costs.

Brown says he’s considering amendments dealing with those costs, as well as liability concerns.

The House Natural Resource Committee will hear the bill Monday afternoon.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.