Faces Behind The Fires: A New Series From The Mountain West News Bureau

May 14, 2018

Fire season is here again. Coming up over the next few days 91.5 KRCC will be introducing you to some of the people on the frontlines—and that doesn't just mean firefighters and smokejumpers. The series from the Mountain West News Bureau will focus on the people behind the scenes.

Nate Hegyi is a reporter based in Montana with the Mountain West News Bureau.

On who will be included in the series: 

Hegyi: We're going to meet hot-shots and incident commanders. These are the guys that are actually fighting the fire. We're also going to meet people you wouldn't expect like archaeologists and fish biologists.

On the upcoming wildfire season - how bad will it be?

Hegyi: I've been told that bad is the wrong way to look at it. Fire ecologists say wildfires aren't bad, they're a normal and healthy part of a forest. If your house burns down, then yes, a wildfire is bad; if you're breathing in a bunch of smoke, then yes, a wildfire is bad; but for the forest...it's a normal and completely healthy part of the environment. A better word would be severe—and yes, we're probably going to have a severe wildfire season. 

On how people can prepare:

Hegyi: Around half of all of the houses in the American west are in fire-prone areas. If your home is near a bunch of trees, you want to make sure you're focusing on maintenance. That means clearing your gutters, moving brooms and propane tanks away from your house, and making sure to get rid of pine needles that fall on your roof. All of these things can help a fire spread into your home and nobody wants that. 

On the U.S. Governments role in preventing wildfires:

Hegyi: Something big happened this year. Congress changed the way the Feds pay for fires. The U.S. Forest Service used to pay for fighting fires out of pocket and last year half of the budget went to fighting wildfires when it could've been going to things like insect control and prescribed burns...things that help prevent big wildfires from burning into neighborhoods. This year Congress gave the U.S. Forest Service a $20 billion emergency fund to fight fires over the next decade. There are critics who say the Forest Service isn't very thrifty when it comes to fighting fires and this fire-funding-fix amounts to a blank check.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.