The BLM Central Montana Fire Zone (CMFZ) covers 16 counties in northcentral Montana. The zone has fire protection responsibility on 3.5 million acres of BLM public land. In addition we perform initial attack on all lands in the southern areas of Valley, Blaine and Phillips counties and the Big and Little Snowies (USFS). We provide assistance to other agencies including the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge (USFWS), the USDA Forest Service, the USDI Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and most of the counties within our zone.
Fuel types consist of grasslands, agricultural lands, shrubs, juniper, and ponderosa pine and mixed conifers in the higher elevations. The topography ranges from areas that are steep and rugged to areas that are very flat. The Central Montana Fire Zone contains six mountain ranges (Big Snowies, Little Snowies, North Moccasin, South Moccasin Judith, and Little Rockies).
Our main fire office is located at the Lewistown Airport where there are three Type 6 engines, one Type 4 engine, a 3,500-gallon water tender, a helicopter crew (with an exclusive-use helicopter), an air attack platform, and the Lewistown Interagency Dispatch Center. Our other fire station is located one-and-a-half hours north of Lewistown at the base of the Little Rockies in Zortman, Montana. There are two Type 6 engines and one Type 4 engine at the station.
Strategy and Tactics
We have a variety of fuel types, moisture conditions, and terrain which includes deep drainages, steep slopes, rolling hills, and mountainous terrain. Mobile attack and progressive hose lays are a common method of firefighting tactics throughout the zone.
Problems and Hazards
In our zone, the weather can change in a matter of hours. Whenever there is a thunderstorm approaching, you should expect strong wind gusts from 40-70 mph. These thunderstorms can be wet or dry--usually with lightening. Once the soils in the zone get wet, they turn into “gumbo” mud, and it is impossible to drive anywhere. If there is a thunderstorm approaching, get to the highest ground possible or to a well-graveled road. Be patient and allow the gumbo to dry before trying to proceed.
There are numerous types of wildlife on our zone including elk, white-tailed and mule deer, antelope, and numerous species of birds. We also have numerous types of snakes; rattlesnakes are the ones to watch out for.
Logistics within the zone can prove to be challenging. Distances between full-service facilities can be long. Ground- based resources need to be self-sufficient (food, water, camping gear, etc.) for at least 48 hours. Locations for fueling vehicles are limited. Do not pass up an opportunity to fill your fuel tanks. Travel distances within the zone tend to be long. Cell phone and satellite phone coverage varies widely throughout the zone.
Local Area Information