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Transition team to take control of Liberty Fire until new crew arrives

Control of Liberty Fire temporarily transitions until new crews can arrive.
Control of Liberty Fire temporarily transitions until new crews can arrive.
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ARLEE, Mont. - It was a quiet day at the fire camp in Arlee while the former fire crew got ready to go home.

Control of the Liberty Fire has been temporarily transferred to the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team under the command of Greg Poncin. Officials say a new order has been placed for another Type 2 fire team to come and take control of the fire.

Commanders aren't sure when that will happen. They said there aren't enough firefighters with all the fire activity in the region and the greater U.S.

"The fires are surrounding us, and it's really close to home. The smoke has me worried about the health conditions of people. We have a lot of elders here," said Arlee resident Jim Malatare.

It comes after 16 firefighters narrowly escaped entrapment by the fire, and two firefighters were killed in Montana by fallen dead trees called snags.

"Because a lot of fuels in this area are thick, heavy timber, with a lot of dead standing trees and dead down fuels, it is very hazardous for firefighters," said Taiga Rohrer, former incident commander.

Rohrer says they have requested a new Type 2 crew to replace his team, which has been in Arlee for the last three weeks. They were initially only scheduled for two but stayed an extra week because of the lack of firefighters available.

"As a matter of fact, there aren't many resources. Really any resources that are available are being brought to fires as fast as they can," said Rohrer. "We were really short-staffed for this."

Resources go first to the fires threatening homes and other community resources. In this case the first available team was sent to the Rice Ridge Fire outside of Seeley Lake.

Local residents are concerned. Malatare and his friend Rudy King Jr. have lived in the area for most of their lives.

"A lot of people are devastated by losing their homes and their livestock," said Malatare. "It's really scary. I've never seen it this bad."

King said even his 4-year-old great grandson is concerned.

"We were out driving one day, and he saw all the smoke. He said, 'Grandpa, boy, that smoke is so bad. If we keep breathing it then it's going to hurt our lungs and make us sick,'" said King.

The longer-than-average fire season has residents hoping for one thing.

"We need some kind of help, because they're not able to keep up with it. It's too dry. It's moving too fast, and I really feel for these firefighters. They're working as hard as they can, and it's just devastating," said Malatare.

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NBC Montana reached out to one of the firefighters trapped in the Liberty Fire over the weekend. He said he wasn't able to comment on the details of what happened because the event is under a facilitated learning analysis, but he is glad he and his crew are safe and able to continue their duties.

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