Commissioners lift burn ban, prepare for national earthquake drills

VIRGINIA CITY—At their weekly meeting on Tuesday, October 2, the Madison County commissioners voted to lift the countywide burn ban now that the 2018 fire season is winding down. 

The Monument and Wigwam fires are now both out after burning for over a month, while the Bacon Rind Fire near and inside Yellowstone National Park continues to burn over 5,000 acres, leading to continued closure of some trails both in the park and in Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

But Madison County is now free of active burns, so emergency management staff Dustin Tetrault and Joe Brummel recommended lifting the burn ban the county put in place on August 7. However, the lifting of the burn ban does not mean that debris-burning permits are back in effect. That will take place later, likely by mid-October, said Tetrault, once the county sees a little more precipitation and evidence of cooler weather through the coming weeks. 

The emergency management department also put through its final billing for the Monument and Wigwam Fires. The two blazes ended up costing around $40,000 in county money, including road crews and reimbursement for the emergency team’s work and vehicles.

Another agenda item was the approval of an application for a Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) grant. Tetrault said that Madison County has applied for similar grants in years past but hasn’t received them. 

If this round of applications is successful, the CPAW team would act in a contractor position at no cost to the county and would put together a plan specific to the Big Sky emergency management team to plan for future wildfires in that area. 

Tetrault said wildfire management is difficult in Big Sky because four entities come together, each with its own plan: Madison and Gallatin counties, as well as the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Custer-Gallatin National Forests. CPAW assists counties with everything from land use and mapping to establishing subdivision regulations for wildfire preparedness. 

County safety coordinator Bob Bates made his monthly report to the commissioners, which included a preview of a statewide event to take place on at 10:18 a.m. on October 18: the Great Montana ShakeOut.

The event is one of hundreds that occur across the country, all at the same time on the same day. Nearly 50 million people nationwide participate in ShakeOut procedures, which include earthquake drills like “drop, cover and hold” and evacuation drills.

In county buildings, the ShakeOut message will be broadcast over the PA system, said Bates. In the past, offices open to the public have even been asked to practice escorting visitors out of the building and to rally points around the area. Commissioner Dan Allhands noted the importance of the exercise, especially since many newer employees don’t know where those rally points are.

Across the state, over 100,000 people will participate in the Great Montana ShakeOut on October 18 in schools, offices, hotels, community centers and other locations.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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