Even though western Montana is on the cusp of an historic flood, officials were taking the first steps over the weekend to make area neighborhoods safer for the upcoming fire season.

Frenchtown Fire District Spokesman Mel Holtz was working alongside Missoula County United Way spokesman Eric Legvold in the Frenchtown area on Saturday.

“We’re working on a project in a couple of subdivisions near Frenchtown,” said Holtz. “Pretty excited to be teaming up with the United Way and they received a lot of funds from the 2017 wildland fire funds. We’re trying out a pilot project with a couple of homeowners associations to work on cleaning up people’s properties for the upcoming wildland fire season.”

Legvold said the funds, between $115,000 and $130,000 would particularly go to areas near the Rice Ridge Fire in Seeley Lake and the Lolo Peak Fire.

“We’re working on a pilot program to understand the needs and logistics, so we can operate in those impacted areas,” said Legvold. “The county reached out to us to be the repository of these funds, and we are happy to do so being a well-known nonprofit and we have a great partnership with the county.”

Legvold and Holtz were working with crews cutting down and chipping possible fuels for the next fire season, along with volunteers from Frenchtown Fire.

“We’re also looking at watershed restoration because we know that we have a large amount of snow pack this year and the runoff is going to be very intense,” he said. “We’re also working with Climate Smart Missoula researching and identifying public schools systems that need HEPA Filters, and we’re trying to get HEPA filters inside every classroom in the county. We’re also meeting with landowners who have shown the need for some kind of reimbursement for losing their land.”

Legvold said the project is in its initial stage ands they are working to help distribute those funds in the most systematic and knowledgeable way possible for those affected by the 2017 wildfires.