Tester announces FEMA funding, invites Trump to tour Montana wildfires

Heavy smoke filters the sun over Glacier National Park. The 2017 fire season in Montana is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Three Montana wildfires will receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help cover ongoing firefighting expenses, Sen. Jon Tester said on Sunday.

Tester, who has invited President Donald Trump to tour the state’s wildfires, said the latest round of federal resources will help fight the Rice Ridge fire in Seeley Lake, as well as the Alice Creek fire near Lincoln and the West Fork fire near Libby.

“With more than a million acres in Montana burned and little relief in sight, Washington must step up and do its part to ensure lives, homes and property are protected,” Tester said. “These resources will be a critical force on the front lines as firefighters and first responders work hard to beat back these blazes.”

As many as 76 large fires are burning across nine western states, including as many as 28 in Montana, according to Reuters. The Associated Press places the number of large Montana fires at 21.

Either way, the 2017 wildfire season is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years. The heavy fire activity was expected to continue through October in parts of the northern Rocky Mountains and California, the National Interagency Fire Center has said, citing hot and dry weather conditions as the primary cause.

“The situation is likely to get worse before it gets better,” Gov. Steve Bullock told Brock Long, the administrator of FEMA, during a meeting last week. “It has been a long and challenging fire season in Montana.”

It was also last week that Tester helped secure roughly $3.3 million from FEMA to bolster emergency response and disaster preparedness across the state. Sunday’s announcement of additional resources also come from the Fire Management Assistance Grant, which covers 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs.

Tester said the grants can assist with expenses for field camps, equipment, mobilization and demobilization activities, along with tools, materials and supplies. The grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners, and they don’t cover other fire damages.

Gov. Steve Bullock meets with Brock Long, administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Association. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s critical that folks on the ground have the resources to beef up emergency responses that are tailored specifically to their communities,” Tester said. “These grants will help equip and train local responders, ensuring communities across Montana have folks ready to serve the people of Montana.”

Tester said he will also work to secure additional firefighting resources in the upcoming Hurricane Harvey and Irma funding legislation. The state’s senior senator has invited Trump to visit Montana and “witness firsthand” the lasting impacts of a devastating wildfire season.

“We have already seen more than 1 million acres of Montana burn up in these wildfires and this fire season is not showing signs of stopping anytime soon,” Tester wrote the president. “Thousands of Montanans have been evacuated from their homes and numerous communities have been engulfed in fire and smoke for weeks.

“I believe you would benefit from an on-the-ground tour to ensure the needs of these communities are being met.”

In his own meeting with FEMA, Bullock asked the agency to work with his personnel to expedite the review and approval of additional Fire Management Assistance Grant requests, and allow the state to apply for assistance across multiple fires.

To date, Bullock said, FEMA has issued grants for the Lodgepole Complex fire and the Lolo Peak fire.