BOZEMAN, Montana – Prevention and preparedness play an essential role in staying safe during the fire season. Montana Agricultural Safety Program Director Dana Jansen said the first step to fire prevention is awareness of potential sources that could start a blaze.

She urges people to store highly combustible materials appropriately, with hay, straw, and bedding stored away from buildings and if possible, on areas of bare ground. 

“Consider multiple hay yard sites to minimize overall risk and impact,” said Jansen. “If you have insured hay, check with your agent distances needed between high stacks.” 

Ensure access is maintained to all areas of the farm/ranch. Build and maintain roads and ensure that your gates are wide enough for equipment and vehicles to easily pass through and be opened easily. Remove low-hanging branches and trees or shrubs blocking roadways.

Since properly maintained equipment is less likely to start a fire, it is essential to maintain equipment at manufacturer-recommended intervals and replace worn or broken parts. While examining the equipment, be sure that the fire extinguishers work and each piece of equipment has one.

“If at all possible, avoid working in fire weather conditions,” Jansen, who is a volunteer firefighter and Lavina rancher, said. “Sparks from equipment are often the cause of fires.”

Jansen advised keeping grass short, particularly in areas that receive vehicle traffic and around buildings and don’t park vehicles in high, dry grass. 

“It’s important to have firefighting equipment ready to go because often fires happen quickly and you don’t have time to be looking around to find a shovel. You want to have quick access to shovels, fire rakes, and flappers (made from mudflaps or large belting attached to a long handle) readily accessible,” Jansen said. “If you will be near an active flame, wear natural materials with long pants, long sleeves, safety glasses, cap, gloves, and heavy boots. Avoid synthetic fibers; wool or cotton is preferable.”

It’s essential to keep an adequate water supply available and fill temporary means of water storage during times of high fire danger. 

The key is to stay calm, Jansen advised. “Remember, fire conditions change rapidly, so stay up to date, and heed all warnings. It can feel like concerns aren’t being addressed but trust the professionals to make the best decision they can with the information they have. Work closely with those responsible for managing the fire, share knowledge with them, offer your assistance, and remember they really are there to help but can’t do it with hostile landowners.”

“If you have livestock in danger, make sure your plan doesn’t hinder firefighting activities,” Jansen said. “Land, livestock and equipment are expensive to lose, but human life is far more important.”