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Gianforte puts entire state under fire emergency status

Western Wildfires

A scoop plane drops water onto a burning ridge at the Lick Creek Fire, south of Asotin, Wash.

Citing nearly 1,400 wildfires that have burned more than 141,000 acres in the state, Gov. Greg Gianforte on Wednesday issued an executive order declaring a wildland fire emergency across the entire state.

The order is effective immediately.

The state of emergency opens the door to more resources and assistance, and allows Gianforte to mobilize the state's National Guard and activate the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

The compact is a mutual aid agreement between states to share resources during an emergency or disaster.

“Montana faces critical fire conditions that pose significant threats to our communities, infrastructure, first responders, and way of life,” Gianforte said in a press release. “As our firefighters battle active fires across the state with more to come, this executive order helps ensure they have the suppression resources, supplies, and fuel they need to safely and aggressively respond.”

More than three-quarters of the fires in Montana so far have been human-caused, the release says.

“I’m urging all Montanans and visitors to our state to do their part. Follow local fire restrictions, prepare your homes and communities for wildfire, and recreate and work safely to ensure you’re not adding to our wildland firefighters’ workload by inadvertently starting a wildfire. Our dedicated, courageous first responders are depending on us all,” Gianforte said in the release.

Guard members can be tapped to assist in fire suppression. About 84% of the state is in moderate to extreme drought, and nationally there are firefighting and aviation resources shortages.

The region is at preparedness level five, the highest possible. Gianforte's executive order says "coordinated aggressive initial attacks on all future wildland fire starts are needed to protect lives and property in the state."

The order also suspends some rules around commercial vehicles that work on fire response.

Earlier this month, Gianforte's office said the state's fire fund is essentially full, with about $104 million in the bank.

Several counties in the western part of the state Wednesday were under red flag warnings, which signify high risk for fires. The eastern half of the state is under an excessive heat watch. Air quality is also diminished around the state because of smoke from fires across the West. The hot and dry weather is expected to continue through August.

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