County officials hear of fire and smoke danger
Last updated 7/22/2021 at 11:23am
Hill County Disaster and Emergency Aid Services Coordinator Amanda Frickel provided an update on local and state wildfire activity in a meeting of Hill County Officials Wednesday, as well as new fire restrictions going into effect Friday.
Frickel said Hill County will be moving into Stage 1 fire restrictions at 12:01 a.m. Friday, which means building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire is prohibited in Hill County, including Beaver Creek Park, Fresno Dam area, and Rocky Boy.
Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials is also prohibited.
People with a written permit that specifically authorized the otherwise prohibited act are exempted along with those using a device solely fueled by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels that can be turned on and off, provided they are used in an area that is barren of cleared of all overhead and surrounding flammable materials within three feet of device.
Fires in those designated areas where the activity is specifically authorized by written post, or in areas that may have unique agency or tribe exemptions are also not prohibited.
A release sent to the Havre Daily News says Montana State Law requires anyone who causes a fire will be financially liable for damages and suppression costs and exemption does not absolve an individual or organization from liability or responsibility for any fire started by the exempt activity.
The city of Havre also has implemented fire restrictions effective Friday at 12:01 a.m.
Frickel said this is probably going to be a really bad fire season given the conditions of the area which will likely move into a Drought 3 designation next week.
She said 110 fires are burning throughout the state and DES has had to put a great deal of grant work and training on the back-burner because so many of the people they’d normally talk to for that kind of thing are fighting those fires and some have been sent to other states that are in even worse shape.
Despite current difficulties Frickel said she was able to to apply for a state grant to upgrade her office’s equipment and it looks like she’ll be awarded it.
She also said Gov. Greg Gianforte’s recent declaration of a disaster in Montana due to the drought has opened the county up for some additional funding, but she’s not sure what that will look like just yet.
She said these conditions combined with a population explosion of grasshoppers and beetles has made the lives of local agricultural producers very difficult.
“It’s pretty tough on our farmers,” Frickel said.
She also warned that with these fires will come a significant drop in air quality as smoke rolls into the area.
“If you have a scratchy throat or don’t feel good, chances are you do not have COVID, you’re probably bothered by the smoke and poor air quality so don’t freak out,” she said.
Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson also provided an update on the commission’s activities which include working on American Rescue Plan funds and how to spend them.
Peterson said the Hill County Water District, the local levee system, RSIDs 29 and 30, have all been allocated some of these funds, which will also be used for installing improved air conditioning on the courthouse’s upper floors and in a loss of revenue adjustment.
He said additional funds through ARPA have also been looked at to go to Hingham, Box Elder, and Rudyards’ sewer systems, as well as equipment replacement for Kremlins rural water system.
He said further grant funds made available through ARPA have also been applied for to address improvement projects for the levee system, RSID 29 and 30.
Peterson said North Havre also applied for funding.
He said he’s heard rumblings of a second round of grant funds in the future and hopefully more local projects will be shovel-ready by the time that comes around.
Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean said the county is hoping to appoint a new superintendent of schools at the start of next month as well.
Hill County Human Resources Legal Assistant Brittany Pfeifer said they are also looking for a new building manager, sanitarian, and deputy county attorney, but it’s hard to find people at the moment.
Officials discussed the possibility of reporting people who don’t show up to interviews to the state for unemployment insurance fraud.
Hill County Auditor Kathy Olson said her department has been bogged down with a heavy workload and hasn’t been able to work on county credit cards, but hopefully she’ll be able to find a part-time employee to share some of the load and the matter can be addressed.
Olson said she wanted to assure county employees that the matter hasn’t been forgotten.
Montana State University Hill County Extension Food and Consumer Science Agent Kati Purkett also provided an update on 4-H and their activities at the Great Northern Fair last week.
Purkett said the livestock sale and, according to preliminary reports, the 4-H Chuckwagon saw a significant boost in engagement.
She said the 4-H students gave it their all and this year to make 4-H’s Fair events incredibly successful.
The next Hill County Officials meeting will be Wednesday, Aug. 18, at 9 a.m. in the Hill County Courthouse Timmons Room.