Firefighting teams challenged by 2020 conditions

Photo of a controlled burn done by the U.S. Forest Service in Troy. Photo courtesy of Anna Valentine.


By Brian Baxter


July is the entry point into the core of the western fire season. This year could be even more complex than usual, due to COVID-19 challenges, predicted weather conditions, and the need to alter normal firefighting procedures to protect both firefighters and the public from COVID-19 and its effects. The updated National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for the Northern Rockies areas including northern Idaho and northwest Montana just came out on Wednesday, July 1. The report predicts normal significant large fire potential expected in July and October. Above normal significant large fire potential is expected across northern Idaho and most of Montana in August and September. Other than the areas along the Continental Divide that received heavy precipitation from the closed low in mid-June, mountain snowpacks have generally melted by the end of June as is usual, except on the more sheltered aspects in the highest terrain.

Short term forecast models call for average temperatures and precipitation during the first week in July, however the monthly outlook for July indicates above average temperature potential west of the Continental Divide and near average precipitation. The seasonal July-September outlook depicts above average temperatures focused most strongly over northern Idaho and west-central Montana. Also, a weak La Nina is possible to develop during peak fire season this summer, which will be closely monitored as it could bring significantly warmer and drier weather to our area by late July through August.

Along with that report are signals that the North American Monsoon will be significant this season, which could have implications for greater dry thunderstorms (lightning) in the local region. Another contributing factor is live and subsequently drying fuels. Low and mid-elevation live fuels are beginning to dry out, and higher elevation snowpack will be melting off due to the angle of the sun peaking in early July, therefore increasing healthy live fuel growth. By mid-July, these exposed fuels will quickly begin drying. In essence, this does not paint a pretty picture for our local forthcoming fire season. If you have concerns about fuel loads and fire danger around your homes in the urban-interface situation, you can call the Lincoln County Planning Department for tips on how to mediate those dangers at 283-2461.

Cooperating Federal, State, and other agencies have released a Wildland Fire Response Plan – COVID-19 Pandemic for the Northern Rockies Geographic Area. It is a 108 page report that is available on the NIFC website at In it, the groups state “The uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing development of standard protocols and practices, and other changes to existing standards for wildland fire response necessitates that this Wildland Fire Response Plan be a living document and subject to updates as new or more current information emerges.” In other words friends and neighbors, this year they will have to live and learn just like the rest of us.

To their credit, these agencies have come out with condensed Coronavirus Rapid Lesson Sharing Reports, based on a summary of Coronavirus lessons learned from incidents that occurred between March 7 and June 15 across the country, and included strategies learned from the Lump Gulch Fire just south of Helena, Montana. The Read and Reorient bulletins were just updated on June 30. Key points include focusing on the basics of preventing the spread of Coronavirus by maintaining “Module As One” smaller groups at home units, while traveling, and at the incident. This newer outlook is shying away from the large fire camps of past practices, where teams still had to deal with contagious disease problems even in the old days. At the morning briefings, and at the incident, individual Chief of Party leaders will be the only person who interacts with other modules and resources, relating the information to his or her crew module. The reports also state that although focus may not always be COVID-19, as in an uncontrolled fire that is highly dangerous and threatening enough to human lives or destruction of properties, once the primary threat of the fire is mitigated crews are asked to remember to refocus on achievable Coronavirus mitigations. The documents also addresses testing firefighters, disinfecting vehicles, equipment, radios, and highly used areas, as well as use of masks. Additional focus is on sanitizing personal gear, digitizing documents, food safety and nutrition, and plans / preparation.

Those of us who have had the pleasure and experiences of working on wildfires in our area with interagency teams that include the U.S. Forest Service, Montana Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Land Management, private timber companies, Native American teams, and local city and rural fire departments, as well as volunteers, have seen amazing coordination occur under some of the most dangerous and rapidly changing circumstances far away from most human eyes out in the surrounding mountains of our forests.

The core of the bonding for the good of the whole, the brotherhood and sisterhood, and the courage that arises when team members are in danger is phenomenal and touching. Rest assured, that confidence in our firefighters is well placed. As Kootenai National Forest Fire Management Officer, Dan Rose, said, “We were able to hire a full complement of firefighters for the 2020 season. We made some adjustments to our trainings this year due to COVID-19.” He then added more information when he said, “We took advantage of online resources where possible, limited group sizes, and maintained social distancing while working together. We’re working with all our partners to ensure continued response to wildfires through the 2020 season.”

House of Libby hosts weekly open mic and comedy nights

By Brian Baxter


Diverse entrepreneur and business owner, Vince Backen, is offering our community another avenue to increasing prosperity and to counter punch the melancholy of existing tough economic circumstances. This route is aimed at keeping our sense of humor, and enriching our souls.

Backen is providing area residents and summer visitors with some refuge from the insanity of the world by setting the stage for some much needed comic relief. On Thursday evenings from 8 until 10 p.m., he will be  hosting an open mike session with five minute slots the House of Libby event center.

Backen, owner of the new Libby Mercantile, and master of ceremonies for the weekly events said, “This will be our third week. We welcome comedy, poetry, spoken word, rap, singing, etc.”

The venue encompasses the downstairs of the new Libby Mercantile located at 318 California Ave., and Backen hopes to bring back the echo of laughter to the old basement bar area, which was once an entertainment center known as the Loading Chute. The Loading Chute (Load’in Chute) hosted area rock bands and occasionally rock stars such as Jorma Kaukonen, the American blues, folk, and rock guitarist who played with the legendary bands Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him number 54 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.

The former owners left the beautiful wood-worked bar area still in place and Backen and his sons have been working hard to spruce it up. The weekly events are mostly a workshop for stand-up comedy, and comics, poets, and rappers who are asked to sign up before the doors open.

Long before folks danced to the rock bands, the basement of the original Kootenai Mercantile was rumored to be connected by a tunnel to the Historic Libby Hotel. During the prohibition days of the roaring 1920’s to 1933, rum runners, moon-shiners, and their molls supposedly partied, laughed, danced, and drank in the basement party headquarters of the mercantile. These havens of good times during the Prohibition era, when alcohol was illegal, were known as Speak Easies. This referred to speaking easy, or quietly about where you were partying, or the feds could raid the place.

When writing about the value of humor, a gentleman named William Arthur Ward once wrote, “A well developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.” So come out and share a few laughs with your neighbors at the House of Libby event center. For more information email or call or text 406-200-3193.

Lincoln County

identifies additional positive case


On Friday, July 3, Lincoln County Health Department received notice that an additional individual has tested positive for novel coronavirus in Lincoln County. The individual is a direct contact of a known positive from out of state. The health department is investigating for possible contacts.

As of July 6, Lincoln County has had 9 confirmed cases, 2 of which are active.

As of July 6, Montana has had a total of 23 deaths and 102,926 tests administered.

Please remember, if you have not received a call from the Health Department regarding contact with a case, you are not a considered a direct contact.

For questions about COVID-19 please call the Lincoln County COVID-19 Information Line at 293-6295.

Call ahead to a healthcare professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or difficulty breathing.

U.S. facing coin shortage not really sure what to title

By Mckenzie Williams

COVID-19 and panic buying has already caused an abundance of  shortages, including hand sanitizer, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, meat and yeast.

According to the Federal Reserve the coronavirus latest victim was the U.S. Coin, which is now in short supply. So break out your piggy banks and those coin cups around the house.

With the recent shutdowns and partial closures the circulation of coins have been low. The production at the U.S. Mint has also decreased due to the pandemic.

The U.S. Mint manufactures America’s coins, and the Federal Reserve distributes them.

Stores and various other  institutes receive  their coin mainly from two sources: the Fed and from customer or customer exchanges. Seems like the best thing to so is use the coin you have laying around the house, or in their car, this can help those institutions keep their coin levels more stable.

Due to the disruption in coin production, U.S. Mint and Federal Reserve have changed normal practices to elevate the problem. Coins now go to banks based on their historical order sizes and the is Mint moving to move out new coin shipments to add a fresh supply into the system.

Rosauers post signs  regarding the coin shortage. Sign states they will be experiencing this shortages, to help alleviate this coin  shortage they are asking customers to use credit, debit, or exact change for cash transactions as much as possible.