As fire season heats up, Missoula County looks for preparedness coordinator

Pilot Todd Donahue of Homestead Helicopters in Missoula posted this photo last year as the Lolo Peak fire made a 3,800-acre run toward homes. Missoula County will hire a fire preparedness coordinator to oversee the cooperative wildfire plan it signed with the Lolo National Forest. (Todd Donahue via Facebook)

Missoula County inked an agreement with the Lolo National Forest on Tuesday that will see the federal agency reimburse the county up to $60,000 this year for staffing a wildfire preparedness coordinator.

The position was written into the cooperative wildfire operating plan signed by the county and the Forest Service in 2015. The plan enables the parties to jointly coordinate projects and share resources for fire protection and prevention.

“We currently have a position open on the street for a wildfire preparedness coordinator out of the Office of Emergency Management,” said Adriane Beck, the county’s emergency coordinator. “This contract will allow the Forest Service to essentially reimburse the county for costs associated with that employee.”

Under the wildfire operating plan, the Forest Service agreed to reimburse the county position for two years at an initial cost not to exceed $40,000. But this funding cycle, Beck said, the Forest Service will contribute $60,000.

“It’s the end the fiscal year for the federal budget and they (Forest Service) actually have a little more money,” Beck said. “This go round it will be up to $60,000 to contribute to that position for salary costs, and costs associated with bringing that person online.”

The joint operating plan permits the Forest Service and county to coordinate a range of wildfire activities, from prescribed burns to analysis, rehab and public affairs. It also looks to improve fire awareness in the wildland urban interface.

Beck said the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation also has an initial commitment of $30,000.

“Because this year is more than we anticipated coming from the federal side, we may push the state’s back so we can continue the funding beyond just the two years,” Beck said.