Communities prepare for future wildfires

Print Article

  • Tai Foley of Safe Lands Forestry demonstrates how he clears some of the forested land in the Glacier Hills community near Hungry Horse on Tuesday. Foley works to balance preserving the natural appeal with the wishes of the homeowners and with being firewise. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Forester Rick Moore walks through an area near the main gate at Glacier Hills admiring the work of Tai Foley of Safe Lands Forestry on Tuesday, October 24, in Martin City. “Tai’s created the feeling of a forested park here,” said Moore. Moore described the importance of having this area clear of the elements that fuel fires, but still has a feeling of naturalness to it. “It isn’t 100 percent fire proof, but nothing is.”(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Rich Baginski, member of the Glacier Hills Firewise Advisory Team, talks about the programs and features they have integrated into their community to keep the area safer from wildfires.

  • 3

    The Baginski’s home in Glacier Hills with a landscaped boarder between the edge of the home and forest is an example of keeping a fuel-free area within 3-5 feet of the home’s perimeter. Rich and his wife Carole, who moved to Montana from Cincinnati did most of the gardening themselves.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Tai Foley of Safe Lands Forestry.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Tai Foley of Safe Lands Forestry demonstrates how he clears some of the forested land in the Glacier Hills community near Hungry Horse on Tuesday. Foley works to balance preserving the natural appeal with the wishes of the homeowners and with being firewise. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Forester Rick Moore walks through an area near the main gate at Glacier Hills admiring the work of Tai Foley of Safe Lands Forestry on Tuesday, October 24, in Martin City. “Tai’s created the feeling of a forested park here,” said Moore. Moore described the importance of having this area clear of the elements that fuel fires, but still has a feeling of naturalness to it. “It isn’t 100 percent fire proof, but nothing is.”(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Rich Baginski, member of the Glacier Hills Firewise Advisory Team, talks about the programs and features they have integrated into their community to keep the area safer from wildfires.

  • 3

    The Baginski’s home in Glacier Hills with a landscaped boarder between the edge of the home and forest is an example of keeping a fuel-free area within 3-5 feet of the home’s perimeter. Rich and his wife Carole, who moved to Montana from Cincinnati did most of the gardening themselves.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Tai Foley of Safe Lands Forestry.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Driving through Glacier Hills, Rich Baginski is quick to point out the changes he’s helped bring to this gated community near Hungry Horse.

“When we first moved into the neighborhood, we did not have good signage on the roads, so the reflective signs have gone in,” he says. Easy to spot even in poor visibility, they mark most homes and three helicopter landing areas. Pointing to mowed strips along his street, he explains that “We’ve done some work with the developer to widen the accessible area here, so it’s safer for fire trucks to maneuver.”

In advance of future wildfires, Baginski and his neighbors have also created low-flammability buffer zones around houses, increased fuel mitigation work, and gained Firewise certification for their neighborhood. While none of these steps will prevent future wildfires, Glacier Hills residents hope they’ll protect their houses when one breaks out.

“It takes a lot of time to go through and do the work that needs to be done,” another resident, Jerry Jones, told the Daily Inter Lake. “So the time to get started is now, not when the fire’s already breathing at your back door.”

Baginski had little experience with fire management when he moved here from Cincinnati in 2010.

At a Tuesday event organized by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, he told attendees that his work in the area began when he asked Rick Moore, one of the department’s service foresters, to prepare a Wildfire Risk and Forestry Health Assessment, a free service offered to homeowners.

Based on his recommendations, Baginski, who calls himself the “sparkplug” for this effort, began fuel mitigation work. A once-dense thicket in front of his house is now a thin stand of trees.

Other homeowners took notice. By 2014, 92 percent of Glacier Hills properties had received similar assessments. The following year, its homeowners’ association established a “Firewise Advisory Team.”

The National Fire Protection Agency awards Firewise status to communities that obtain risk assessments, use them to form action plans, and take other fire preparation steps.

Fifteen Montana locales have earned the designation. Glacier Hills joined their ranks in 2016 and continues to thin the neighborhood of potential fuel.

“50 percent of properties have had mitigation work done, so it’s a real success story,” he told guests at Tuesday’s event.

The keys to that “success,” he continued, included starting on a small scale, building the effort around the theme of protecting property investments, and taking advantage of publically available resources.

A cost-sharing program run by the Flathead Economic Policy Center will cover 75 percent of homeowners’ fuel mitigation costs.

Baginski acknowledged that the Firewise designation doesn’t make a difference for their insurance rates, but he’s “very hopeful” that it eventually will. Meanwhile, Jones said that “nothing’s really been put to the test” by a fire yet. And even if these changes prove effective, they may have been relatively easy to make in Glacier Hills, which has just 16 houses and 52 total properties.

Nonetheless, recent fire seasons are spurring more Montana residents to prepare.

Another of Tuesday’s guests, former hotshot firefighter Tai Foley, owns Safe Lands Forestry and has helped with Glacier Hills’s mitigation work. He told the Daily Inter Lake that “in the last few years, there’s definitely been an increase” in business.

He views coordinated, Firewise-style approaches like Glacier Hills’s as the right one.

“If you have one big barrier,” he explained, “you’re gonna have a better chance of surviving an incident than if you’re just a standalone by yourself.”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

Print Article

Read More

Teenager gets comfy in vibrating chair

December 15, 2018 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake A teenaged boy got very comfortable in a vibrating chair at the mall, according to a person who called the Kalispell Fire Department. When people tried to wake him, he didn’t respond. When a firefigh...

Comments

Read More

Margaret ‘Margie’ Helen Neary, 81

December 15, 2018 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Margaret “Margie” Helen Neary, 81, of Kalispell, “went home to be with the Lord” and family on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2018. She was born to Joseph and Helen Neary Aug. 25, 1937 in Detroit. Margie had...

Comments

Read More

Board mulls $1.2M high school levy

December 15, 2018 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Taxpayers may see a $1.2 million general-fund levy request on the May 2019 ballot for Kalispell Public Schools’ high school district. This decision follows a unanimous vote by the Kalispell Public S...

Comments

Read More

As finals week bears down, FVCC offers help with stress

December 15, 2018 at 5:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Flathead Valley Community College students have reached the end of the semester, but before they can relax and enjoy their Christmas break, they have to get through one of the most stressful times of...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(406) 755-7000
727 East Idaho
Kalispell, MT 59901

©2018 Daily Inter Lake Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X