Montana crews to help with California wildfires


BIG SKY, Mont. - Firefighting teams from Montana have been called to help battle wildfires that are forcing evacuations, closing freeways and burning homes in southern California.

Flathead County Fire Warden Lincoln Chute says California requested 50 strike teams from six different states. Montana sent a total of three strike teams with 15 engines and 55 people from 14 agencies.

Big Sky Fire Chief William Farhat said California requested resources from Montana Tuesday night. According to Farhat, Montana then notified fire departments Wednesday morning at 8 a.m.

Six firefighters from Evergreen and two trucks were preparing to leave Wednesday. Crews and engines from Marion, Whitefish and Bigfork also were leaving.

The Missoula Fire Department was sending two engines.

Missoula Rural Fire Captain Michael Bowman says teams will be in California for two weeks. He says it's nice to be able to give back after teams from all over the country helped fight fires during Montana's record fire season this summer.

Farhat said the Big Sky Fire Department sent one engine and four firefighters, who will be stationed in a neighborhood to fight structure fires. He told NBC Montana the crew has a combined 40 years of wildland fire experience. Farhat said it all came down to timing.

"We're able to send people away without causing greater problems for us to be able to respond," Farhat said. "It is heavily dependent on what time of the year this comes in. If this were to come in on the middle of the summertime, we wouldn't be able to fulfill that request."

Firefighters are expected to be deployed for at least two weeks.