Toward the end of a fire season that set records for acres burned and firefighters deployed, Montana Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Jim Hubbard visited the Missoula Smokejumper Base to say thanks.
“This fire year has been one of those that got a lot of attention,” Hubbard said during a brief ceremony at the Smokejumper aircraft hangar on Tuesday. “Our season is still far from over in California. The weather and vegetation will continue to keep it active.”
Daines’ staff presented about a dozen Lolo National Forest firefighters and smokejumpers with copies of a Senate proclamation commending their service in a year that saw nearly 8 million acres catch fire, 32,000 personnel mobilized in state and federal firefighting agencies, and at least a dozen firefighters killed.
“We want to thank you for your heroism and bravery fighting wildfires,” Daines said. He joked that he was standing in front of two things firefighters liked best: a line of firefighting aircraft getting soaked in a fall rainstorm.
Hubbard noted that while 2020 was an intense year for fire activity, the federal government’s recent shift away from borrowing the Forest Service’s regular annual budget to cover firefighting expenses helped it keep on track with its more preventative landscape work.
“We won’t be able to hit all of our targets for forest management and risk reduction, but we’ll come pretty close,” Hubbard said.
On the other hand, complications dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic required higher-than-usual personnel use, Hubbard said. Fire crews had to be moved in multiple vehicles and camped in small groups to limit the risk of infection. So far, only 136 Forest Service firefighters have contracted Covid-19, Hubbard said.
Republican Daines said additional help for firefighters could come with the possible passage of a bill he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, have pushed to reduce restrictions on forest management for fire prevention. That bill, S-4431, may see a Senate vote after Election Day, he said.