Fire near Helena

Fire crews responding to a wildfire southwest of Helena. 

Thom Bridge, Thom.Bridge@Helenair.com

A fundraising campaign sparked by last year’s wildfire season has distributed more than $600,000 primarily to volunteer fire departments in Montana.

The Montana Wildfire Relief Fund formed through a partnership between the Montana Community Foundation and the Montana Television Network. Grants ranging from $600 to $15,000 were recently announced to 81 departments and organizations.

When the 2017 wildfire season took off, the foundation and MTN were both thinking of ways to start a fundraising campaign, said foundation marketing and communication director Riley Meredith.

“They were looking for something to do and we were looking for a partner who could get it out there,” he said. “It just really blew up from there and was all hands on deck for two and a half to three months. It was pretty overwhelming, the response we got.”

The foundation specializes in charitable endowments, so the wildfire fund was a first foray into disaster philanthropy, Meredith said, meaning staff had to spend time learning on the fly.

“We figured it out pretty quickly and had great help from people with incredible support,” he said.

One of the biggest benefits was getting the word out about rural firefighters and the needs of volunteer departments, Meredith added.

The foundation is now looking at creating some type of permanent natural disaster fund.

“The Montana Wildfire Relief fund gave MTN a chance to contribute to the communities we serve each day with our local news and programming,” said Cordillera Communications Vice President Jon Saunders in a statement. “The response from people across the country was amazing and ... MTN is especially proud to be a part of such a successful endeavor.”

Tri-Lakes Fire Service Area received a $9,000 grant that the department will put towards a mobile sign to place along the highway during incident response, said Chief Bob Drake.

“In the wildfires this last summer, we were often operating along high-speed roads and firefighter safety was always in jeopardy,” he said.

The sign will alert motorists and keep the public informed, he added.

Wolf Creek/Craig Fire Service Area received a $6,000 grant that will likely go towards an upgraded pontoon boat. Chief Rocky Infanger said the district includes some homes only accessible by boat on Holter Reservoir.

Other departments receiving grants in the Helena area were the Basin Volunteer Fire Department, Boulder Volunteer Fire Department, Jefferson City Volunteer Fire Department, Montana City Volunteer Fire Department, Lewis & Clark Volunteer Fire Department, Lincoln Rural Fire District, Marysville Rural Fire District and York Fire Rescue.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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