Wildland Fire + Smoke Communications

Strategy, Resources and Guidelines

We have seen an uptick in wildland fire activity in Western Montana and our news outlets and social media feeds are reporting more each day. Every time there's a lightning storm we experience a rash of activity including some smoke from surrounding areas like Idaho, Washington and Canada. Conditions are hot and dry, so we've got potential for negative impacts to escalate.

To help prepare, Glacier Country Tourism, Explore Whitefish, Discover Kalispell and Destination Missoula have been reviewing and updating our wildfire and smoke communications/messaging plan. We have broken this plan into three categories: preventive, during and recovery. Keep in mind this is NOT about preventing the actual wildland fire and smoke (we will leave that messaging to our partners in state and federal government) but about how we respond to the impacts it has on our visitors. The Glacier Country Crisis Communication Team (GCCCT) team has created strategy and efforts for each:

  • Preventive.
    1. Launch a “Don’t Fuel the Fire” advertising campaign helping people understand the impacts impulsive sharing of overly dramatic images of fire and smoke on social media can have on our businesses and communities that rely on travel and tourism.
    2. Share with industry partners resources available so they are aware before an emergency occurs.
    3. Share with consumers how they can have a safe and fun trip around Western Montana.
    4. Remind them there are things they can do to prevent a wildland fire and that fires will likely not impact their trip if they are diligent in following the rules.
  • During. Direct consumers toward available partner resources for information. We do not want to have a "Western Montana is closed" message. We will provide relevant content and resources through communication with DMO partner-owned channels including information on areas open and activity options for visitors to enjoy.
  • Recovery. Promote communities impacted by fires, communicating that they are open for business, and share current photos to promote visitation. 

Industry communications outreach will point partners to this page where businesses can access our fire/smoke toolkit - giving our partners access to the resources and information they need to share with visitors and constituents. We will share the toolkit in all partner newsletters, partner webpages and via a digital campaign aimed at preparing our communities BEFORE a fire/smoke event occurs.

Toolkit:

Communication Guidelines for Wildland Fire Updates

Glacier Country Tourism and our communications partners have drafted language over the past several wildland fire seasons to help avoid cancellations of future reservations and to help visitors enjoy their visit if a wildland fire causes temporary closures or smoke conditions in the Glacier Country region. Prior to any potential crisis, it is always good to review protocols should a fire begin to impact our visitors. (Download as a PDF)

Messaging:

Here are a few things to keep in mind when talking with people.

  1. “You’re safe.” Most wildland fires, when they happen, are in the back country, miles from civilization and any structures. Montana is home to 3,443,038 acres of wilderness, and most fires happen there. If, by chance, a wildland fire gets close to a community, our firefighting experts communicate, evacuate and communicate some more. You will not find yourself unwittingly in the midst of a wildfire while driving down the highway. Ever. Public safety is always the first concern. If an area is open, it is safe.
  2. Montana is huge. Vast, in fact. Over 145,556 square miles or 94,109,440 acres, to be precise. If you read that a fire is 6,400 acres, keep it in perspective, as that’s only a tiny, tiny fraction of Montana’s total acreage. Sometimes newspaper headlines and social media posts can be unnecessarily dramatic and imply that Montana as a whole is “on fire.” It sounds better than to say .000068 of Montana is on fire, which is actually more accurate.
  3. Fire is a natural part of our region’s ecology. Most fires are started by lightning, and are responsible for maintaining the health and perpetuity of certain fire-dependent ecosystems. We don’t pretend to be scientists, but we do have a lot of scientists in our area and resources in our partners at the state and federal levels, and we’ve attached a link to fire ecology below.
  4. And, because we always think the glass is at least half full here in Glacier Country, when the sky is a bit smoky, share with visitors how truly phenomenal sunsets are. And, morel mushrooms - the caviar of the mushroom family - like to grow in post-fire areas. We like that.

Provide specific information, for example (from 2018)…. …..

“The majority of Glacier National Park is open. Open areas include Apgar, Fish Creek, Two Medicine, St. Mary, Many Glacier and the North Fork.”

Give perspective on what is open:

“Glacier National Park is over a million acres.” Use percentages like “2,500 acres—or less than 3% of Glacier National Park—are currently burning, while approximately 25% of the park is temporary closed for wildfire management.”

However, approximately half of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is under temporary closure on the west side, impacting visitor access.

“Visitors may travel 2 miles from West Glacier to the foot of Lake McDonald at Apgar on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.”

“29.5 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are currently closed between the foot of Lake McDonald (near Apgar) and Logan Pass.”

“18.5 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open from St. Mary to Logan Pass on the east side.”

“The Logan Pass Visitor Center is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.”

Please remember to check the fire information sites below for current information. Current fire conditions are considered extreme. Please see guidelines below to assist visitors with information.

Check Current Air Quality

Historically, many wildland fires have been human-caused, so reminders for guests to practice fire safety are important. While recreating, people are encouraged to:

  • Stay on designated roads and avoid parking on dry brush or grass, as exhaust pipes and vehicle undercarriages can be very hot and easily start a wildland fire.
  • Campers are reminded to never leave a campfire unattended, and make sure fires are completely extinguished before leaving the site.
  • Extinguish and properly dispose of cigarette butts. Do not throw them out the window!
  • Follow Montana State Fire Restrictions: What Fire Restrictions Mean To You

Here are some links that will help you stay informed in case there are wildland fires in Western Montana and help your visitors make informed travel decisions. Check back often, as these sites are updated daily.

Glacier National Park – @GlacierNPS and facebook.com/GlacierNPS.

Glacier National Park Dashboard – nps.gov/applications/glac/dashboard

We are also lucky to have many webcams set up across Western Montana so we can see the beauty of Glacier Country at any time. You can also see if there's smoke in the area.

Here are a few so you can see what is happening right now in our area:

And, although I think we'd all agree we'd rather not have to deal with smoke, it’s not calamitous, and if one area is smoky, there are always many, many places in Western Montana, and the state in general, that aren't. If there does happen to be some smoke in the air, we have lots of indoor activities to keep visitors entertained. Museums? Breweries? Arts? Great dining options? We’ve got it all.

Things to Do in Glacier Country

If you ever have to revise your travel plans in Western Montana because of wildland fires or smoke, Glacier Country Tourism’s call center can help you. Chat online here or call 800.338.5072.

Glacier Country Tourism is the advocate, partners and marketing arm for all communities and member businesses throughout Western Montana. As a member of Glacier Country Tourism, there are several ways to leverage their marketing to reach potential visitors interested in Montana.

- Diane Medler, Discover Kalispell/CVB/TBID