BOZEMAN, Mont. - Type II firefighter Josh Kinsel makes his final lap around Bozeman Ponds with a 45 pound pack on his back. It's mile three for Kinsel and the last step in ensuring he's ready for fire season.
"It was hot but, it's good. It was a nice day out so, I don't mind a little extra exercise in the afternoon," says Kinsel.
He finishes in less than 45 minutes, the cut-off. It's not easy but, for Kinsel, it's nothing compared to what it's like on the front lines of a fire.
"In an actual fire situation, you're often climbing really steep hills, 45 degree hills and slopes and walking over down trees and logs and that kind of thing with just as much weight and greater heat," explains Kinsel.
Folks like Kinsel have spent a lot of time training- learning how to respond to a fire, making a plan and putting that plan into action.
Gallatin Forest's West Zone Fire Management Officer Fred Jones tells me they're prepared. Their firefighters are trained, the engines up and running and it won't be long until fire season is underway.
"Hot, dry weather is coming and we're seeing it already. It's going to dry out the fuels. If this keeps up, probably by the end of July and August, we'll be well into fire season," Jones says.
For now, the forest is still green and one third of their staff is out fighting fires in the southwest and Colorado. But that's not to say a blaze won't break out.
"Fire season is unpredictable," says Jones.
It's why the Forest Service relies on mutual aid, from the Bureau of Land Management to rural fire districts and county emergency services.
"Being able to work together is important. We're all geared for the average incident and when we get those incidents that are more than average and become larger, extended events, we need everybody's help and everybody's resources," explains Gallatin County Director of Emergency Management Patrick Lonergan.
He says it's rare they have an incident in Gallatin County they don't have numerous agencies working together. That's why they spend a lot of time training to ensure their staffing levels are up to date, they have plans in order and their contacts and contracts are in place.
"We're kind of coming out of training season so, it was a lot of new people that have gained new knowledge and new training over the spring here and everybody's ready to deal with whatever the summer may bring," Lonergan tells me.
Lonergan says fires can happen at any time so, it's important to follow safe practices all year long.
That means taking precautions like, having a green space around your campfire, water on hand when your burning weeds and not setting off fireworks in the wind.
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