Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County plans to seek an $80,000 state grant to increase the capacity of the local fire warden during critical fire conditions, it said Tuesday.

The Cooperative Fire Protection Capacity grant, provided by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, would help ensure the county has personnel on call during Red Flag events and when the fire danger is elevated.

“When we look at the intent of the grant, it's to help bolster local government's capacity to catch fires early and keep them small,” said Adrian Beck, the county director of Disaster and Emergency Services. “It bolsters the fire warden by applying the funding toward personnel and other rural fire districts to provide on-call leadership during critical fire conditions.”

State climate experts have issued warnings in recent weeks over potential water shortages due to current snowpack models. While that could impact agriculture and recreation this summer - and spells bad news for fisheries and rafting - it may also signal a looming fire season.

The county has named Beck to serve as the fire warden. Every county that participates in DNRC's county cooperative agreement is required to name a fire warden.

“That responsibility is very synonymous with the Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator's responsibilities,” Beck said. “It makes sense to have them live in tandem. It's my responsibility as the county fire warden to help coordinate wildfire response through that county cooperative agreement with DNRC.”

The program also provides protection for the county's unprotected lands, including those not under the watch of DNRC and that don't reside in a local fire district.

Funding for the program is provided by the state Legislature.

“We had a trial last summer with county staff,” said Beck. “But we didn't really have them formally in an on-call status. This will allow us to be a little more predictable with that, and support them with a vehicle.”