Helena Fire Department California crew

The Helena Fire Department is sending six of its firefighters south to assist in national efforts to stop the ten wildfires currently burning through California. From left to right: Mark Mitchell, Brian Roberts, Mike Fobert, Fire Chief Ken Wood (not part of California crew), Neil Koehler, Owen Koeppen, and Seth Banham. Photo courtesy of Assistant Fire Chief Mike Chambers

As 25 million people are under a red flag warning in California and ten wildfires burn thousands of acres across the state, firefighters from Montana are being called in to help.

Crews from across the state, along with 25 vehicles, will lend a hand as the devastating fire continue to threaten communities.

65 personnel from fire departments across the state are being sent by Montana’s Department of Emergency Services to assist in California.

These fire departments include Evergreen, Park County Rural, Fisher River, Marion, Red Lodge, Central Valley, Columbus, Custer County, Helena, Whitefish, Missoula, Missoula Rural, Big Sky, Bull Lake Rural, Bigfork, and Montana DNRC (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation) together make up four task forces.

Montana’s snowy mountains and near-record-cold can make the fires tearing through California’s wildland feel far away. But this week, some of Montana’s own are heading down to the Golden State to assist their fire family.

It’s not the first time Montana fire departments have been asked to help out in the California, and it likely won’t be the last.

"This time of year, when California's having these horrific fires, it's an opportunity to go down and help them,” said Whitefish Fire Chief Joe Page. “We hope they don't have to come and help us. I know they would if we needed them."

Fire crews from Montana will learn new firefighting skills as they tackle California’s wildland fires.

"The guys are pretty excited and I think it's gonna be a big experience and great opportunity for them,” said Helena Assistant Fire Chief Mike Chambers.

Helena’s fire department has been preparing for the inevitable California fires for months.

"This spring we started ramping up our training so that we could be at the appropriate level in regards to standards of survival training, our arduous pack test, so that we're at the national level,” explained Helena’s Chambers.

Both fire officials add that it’s vital to work together, across agencies and state lines, when fires hit the magnitude of the ones in California.

"None of us have the staffing we need,” said Whitefish’s Page. “Especially right now, the size of those fires in California, everybody is just so busy. Those guys have got to be exhausted. So, helping each other is huge."

"Cal Fire and other agencies from California come up here quite often during the summertime when we're battling wildfires,” added Chambers. “And it's the right thing for us to do to reciprocate that behavior."

Montana’s crews left early this week and should arrive in California in a few days.

For about two weeks, the 65 personnel from Montana will be sleeping in tents, working long days, and moving throughout the state to cover various fires.

Additional support is being sent through the Northern Rockies Coordination Center. Tribal engines from the Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet, and North Dakota-Fort Totten Agencies are assisting, along with engines from the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes.

Federal engines will come from the Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest, Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest, and Beaverhead – Deer Lodge National Forest. State government engines from Montana and Idaho have also been deployed to California.

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