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BigforkBigfork is located in the Flathead Valley in northwest Montana, south of Glacier National Park and west of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. The community has a winter population of 1500 residents, but in the summer it about doubles. Bigfork is unincorporated but has its own fire and ambulance department.

In 2004, the Bigfork Fire District received a $250,000 National Fire Plan Grant (NFP) to help the community reduce wildfire risk, potential home and property loss should wildfire occur, and raise a community Firewise awareness. The Bigfork Fire District retains two retired foresters who administer the grant program. (The two have 80 years of combined wildland fire experience as well as timber and silviculture background, and are structural firefighters) In facilitating the grant, the Department emphasizes:

  • Providing residents with wildfire risk assessments, home ignition potential, and prescribing mitigation measures for home sites. Some financial incentives are available for creating a fuel reduction zone near buildings.
  • Assessing the existing condition of private forested land between homes, and recommending options for reducing area wildfire risk, enhancing long-term forest health, and helping land owners find the right contractor for the job. Commercial thinning by professional woods workers is emphasized because produced stumpage often pays for the work that needs to be done and sometimes can give the landowner a profit.
  • Because we live in a rural. fire-prone ecosystem we educate and often encourage homeowners to treat their fuel reduction slash by small hand burning when conditions are right, rather than relying solely on chipping or hauling the slash off-site. Economics and long-term maintenance are the rationale.

BigforkThe vegetation in our area is predominantly thick coniferous forest with Douglas fir the most common tree species. Seven years of drought has stressed our forests causing significant recent mortality from insects and disease, thereby increasing wildfire potential. Recent severe wildfire seasons in Montana, with home loss in 200 and 2003, combined with local-area tree mortality has heightened interest in being proactive and becoming a Firewise community.

BigforkA key message that we deliver to homeowners is this: By implementing fuel reduction around homes, we are not suggesting that we will eliminate fire from the ecosystem. However, our efforts will change fire behavior. By reducing the fuels we can change fire intensity by changing a crown fire to a ground fire. This is what will save homes from burning and enable firefighters to safely engage in fire suppression. Learn more information about the Bigfork Fire District.