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By Andi Bourne

Montana Community Foundation Distributes $600,000 to Benefit Wildfire Relief Efforts


February 8, 2018

Nathan Bourne, Pathfinder

A helicopter flies at the edge of the Rice Ridge Fire during the Aug. 28 blowup that threatened approximately 1,090 homes and buildings in and around Seeley Lake. Tuesday, Aug. 29 the fire had grown to 30,662 acres, less than 18 percent of the 160,000 acres it burned by October.

HELENA – The Montana Community Foundation (MCF) distributed more than $600,000 in grants to 81 organizations including 64 fire departments across Montana from the Montana Wildfire Relief Fund. Area organizations received $84,000 of the funds including: Seeley Lake Rural Fire District, $15,000; Helmville Volunteer Fire Department, $6,000; Lincoln Rural Fire District, $13,000; Missoula City-County Health Department, $15,000; Seeley Lake Community Foundation, $15,000; Seeley Lake Chamber of Commerce, $15,000 and Alpine Artisans, Inc. (AAI), $5,000.

The fund originated as a partnership between MCF and the Montana Television Network (MTN). It is dedicated to supporting wildfire relief efforts following Montana's unprecedented 2017 wildfire season. Launched in early September 2017, the fund grew to more than $600,000 through the extraordinary generosity of individuals, businesses, private foundations and many others across the country.

Every eligible organization that applied received full or partial funding for the amount they requested. Grant applications were reviewed by a grants committee comprised of MCF staff and board members, nominated members of Montana communities affected by wildfires and wildfire experts from government agencies and other qualified organizations.

"We're grateful to have played an important role in not only receiving these charitable gifts but also in administering the grants," said MCF President and CEO Mary Rutherford. "We're looking forward to seeing the positive impact these funds will make on the recipient organizations and, in turn, the positive impact made on communities across Montana affected by the fires."

"The Montana Wildfire Relief fund gave MTN a chance to contribute to the communities we serve each day with our local news and programming," said Cordillera Communications Vice President Jon Saunders. "The response from people across the country was amazing and something MTN is especially proud to be a part of such a successful endeavor."

The majority of grants to the volunteer fire departments will be used to purchase much-needed personal protection equipment (PPE), radios, equipment such as hoses and nozzles and other safety gear.

Seeley Lake Rural Fire District will use their $15,000 grant to purchase five new Bendix King Portable radios, reimbursement for two i-pads and to purchase 18 hi-visibility jackets.

"These items will do much to help the department both provide better service to the community as well as increase the safety to our members," wrote Seeley Lake Fire Chief Michael Greer. "I want to thank Cory Calnan and Randy Gazda for all their work on this grant."

Greer said the new radios will help the district get closer to providing every volunteer a good, quality radio and keep portable radios in each of the apparatus. This will help maintain essential communications during incidents.

The i-Pads were purchased last summer for use in collecting data and coordinating with the Montana Department of Natural Resources in fire threat assessments to area structures. The grant will reimburse the district for that expense.

Greer said the purpose of the jackets is two-fold. First, they will enhance volunteer safety while working on medical and vehicle crash scene. They are also a way for the district to say thank you to the volunteers for all their hard work, countless hours spent and personal sacrifices made last summer.

In addition to fire departments, other organizations that provided direct relief to victims of wildfires or that are located in a community that suffered losses, such as structural damage or economic hardship, will also receive funding.

Sarah Coefield said the Missoula County-City Health Department will use their $15,000 grant to purchase room air purifiers with HEPA filtration for the Missoula County cache. The cache was created during the 2017 wildfire season and used by Seeley Lake Elementary and Lolo School to help create clean air space in the buildings.

Coefield said currently the Health Department owns 60 units that were purchased by emptying the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Fund

"The cache of air purifiers will be used in future wildfire smoke events to create cleaner air in public spaces including, but not limited to, schools, libraries and other public buildings," wrote Coefield in an email. "The grant increases our ability to respond to wildfire smoke events and create clean air spaces for some of our most vulnerable residents.  Last year, we created the HEPA air purifier cache while the smoke was already here.  Now, we will go into future wildfire smoke seasons with a response plan and a robust cache of HEPA air purifiers already in place."

Coefield added that the grant will also allow future PHEP funds to be available for other public health emergencies in the county.

"We want to do our part to create clean air spaces but there are far more rooms in this county than there are purifiers in our cache.  We encourage all facilities, particularly day-cares, schools, indoor recreation areas, assisted living facilities and nursing homes to find out what kind of air filtration they currently have and take steps to provide adequate filtration before the smoke returns," wrote Coefield. "New construction should include HVAC systems with HEPA filtration and every home should have clean air space."

Some grants will be used to bolster the local economy to help area businesses and organizations recover from the huge loss they experienced last year due to the fire and the smoke.

"The Montana Community Foundation's grant toward the Bob Marshall Music Festival means so much to Seeley Lake," said Seeley Lake Community Foundation Board Member Emily Rindal. "After a long, hard fire season it gives our community something to look forward to. The festival will increase tourism, support the business vibrancy, boost morale and let everyone know that Seeley Lake still stands after the fire and is as beautiful as ever."

The Foundation President Lee Boman added, "Being affiliated with the Montana Community Foundation is certainly a benefit to the Seeley Lake Community Foundation.  We are thankful for their assistance and support."

The Seeley Lake Area Chamber of Commerce looks forward to using its $15,000 grant to continue providing target marketing for local businesses in the Seeley Lake area and continue to support local residents and businesses affected by the Rice Ridge fire through hosting and sponsoring local events including: Montana Winterfest in Seeley Lake, the Montana Snow Joke half marathon race, the Bob Marshall Music Festival, the Fourth of July Parade and Fireworks Display, the Seeley Lake Triathlon Duathlon, and additional future events. 

AAI received $5,000 that will be used to help support this year's 2 Valleys Stage season. 2 Valleys Stage provides performing arts informances and workshops to the students at Seeley-Swan High School, Seeley Lake Elementary, Swan Valley Elementary and Potomac Elementary.

Nathan Bourne, Pathfinder

As the sun set Sept. 12, it lit up the plume towering over Seeley Lake as the Rice Ridge Fire chewed northeast into the wilderness.

"The ability to raise the required funds to keep [2 Valleys Stage] functioning was affected. Alpine Artisans and 2 Valleys Stage rely on our local business drive, fundraisers and grants to provide funding," wrote AAI President Gene Schade. "AAI thanks the Montana Community Foundation and its partners for their support and generosity."

As a result of MCF's work with the wildfire fund, the organization has begun additional efforts in disaster recovery. In early December, MCF hosted the Montana Wildfire Early Recovery Workshop with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. MCF also recently participated in the Montana Disaster and Emergency Services Long Term Recovery Meeting. Long-term, MCF has plans to establish a permanent, non-endowed fund dedicated to disaster relief in Montana. This fund will provide a mechanism for donors to give money in support of future disaster relief and worthy organizations to receive funding in support of disaster relief efforts.

For a full list of grant recipients, visit


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