Jonathon Ambarian

HELENA (KPAX) — Despite a strong storm that brought snow to Helena Wednesday, Montana’s wildfire season isn’t far away.

State, federal and local administrators met in Helena to talk about their preparations, in Gov. Greg Gianforte’s annual fire season briefing.

“It's a great day to have a fire briefing, given the weather outside,” Gianforte joked.

Leaders met at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s fire aviation support hangar at the Helena Regional Airport.

There, DNRC maintains firefighting helicopters before they’re sent into the field ahead of the start of the season.

Matt Hall, chief of DNRC’s Fire Protection Bureau, said the department plans to hire just over 100 seasonal firefighters this year.

He said they’ll be able to offer an entry-level wage of $19.05 — higher than previous years — because of the new state employee pay plan.

“I know we have a number of open fire jobs still posted today, but anticipate over the course of the next few weeks filling those positions fully with all of our seasonal staffing,” he said.

DNRC also cooperates closely with local firefighters. Hall said they’ve built 14 new wildfire engines this year, and they’re distributing them to agencies in Beaverhead, Blaine, Cascade, Chouteau, Custer, Fergus, Gallatin, Golden Valley, Meagher, Musselshell, Phillips, Powder River, Sweet Grass and Stillwater counties.

In addition, Hall said DNRC is planning to contract for another “Type 1” helicopter – a heavy helicopter that can carry around 2,000 gallons of water.

“Today we are on track to have firefighting resources ready and available for the 2024 fire year, and we look forward to working with our partners across Montana to increase wildfire readiness, to better serve the citizens of Montana,” he said.

“Partnership” was a keyword for all the agencies in attendance Wednesday. Tim Garcia, deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region, talked about their close cooperation with the state on work like Good Neighbor Authority forest management projects.

“That foundationally is based on and built on the trust and the relationships that we have with our state DNRC partners,” he said. “We encourage and direct our line officers to really make sure that we're having those people – having everyone – at the table as we go into fire season so that, again, we have that early and often communication.”

Garcia said the USFS is also optimistic they’ll get close to their goals for firefighter staffing this year, despite challenges like the cost of housing.

Leaders said it’s still early to know what kind of fire season Montana could see this year, but they’re prepared.

“People always say, ‘Well, what's the fire season going to look like?’ And we oftentimes say, ‘Well, we'll tell you in October,’” said Adriane Beck, director of Missoula County’s Office of Emergency Management and representative for the Montana County Fire Wardens Association. “I say that with some confidence, in that, whatever this fire season brings, know that your counties are ready. Your county fire wardens are working year-round in coordination with the state.”

Since taking office, Gianforte has repeated two main priorities for the state’s wildfire response: aggressively attacking fires from the early stages to keep them small and expanding the scale of active forest management work.

He reiterated both points on Wednesday, "Together, we can continue to build healthier, more resilient forests, but it will take all of us."

May is also Wildfire Awareness Month. State leaders encourage residents to take steps to get themselves “fire-ready.” You can find more information at

“We can't stop every wildfire from starting, but we can control our actions and our preparedness,” Gianforte said.