Mont. fire chief wins national fire mitigation award

Wolf Creek/Craig Fire Chief Rocky Infanger was honored for bringing a passion and purpose to mitigation work as well as a concern for the well-being of others

By Tom Kuglin
Independent Record

HELENA, Mont. — Wolf Creek/Craig Fire Chief Rocky Infanger was honored Wednesday as a recipient of the 2019 National Wildfire Mitigation Award.

Infanger, president of Tri-County FireSafe Working Group and vice chairman of FireSafe Montana, is one of seven recipients across the country of this year’s award. The award is sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association and the Forest Service -- and is recognized as one of the highest honors in the field of wildfire mitigation.

Infanger began fighting fires in 1985. He worked for various agencies and private fire companies before becoming a fixture in Wolf Creek and a voice for mitigating private lands near homes and using flame resistant building materials and landscaping.

“You’re always first on the scene it seems and you’re always the first to volunteer and participate, and how do we make things better, how do we do more mitigation, how do we prepare for next year, Rocky is always on the forefront,” said Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen.

Hunthausen went on to read the commission’s proclamation, noting the impacts of wildfire, the need for mitigation and declaring Feb. 13, 2019, as Rocky Infanger Day in the county. Jefferson and Broadwater counties passed similar proclamations.

Several colleagues and friends spoke about Infanger from the commission chambers.

Sheriff Leo Dutton said Infanger brings a passion and purpose to mitigation work as well as a concern for the well-being of others as a firefighter.

“Oftentimes people are given an opportunity to excel, but not everybody reaches out and takes it and makes something of it,” Dutton said. “A lot of us receive opportunities, but it takes a special person to recognize that opportunity and to make it something we can all benefit from.”

Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest supervisor Bill Avey called Infanger a leader in preparing local communities for wildfire and an example of strong public service.

“I just think about all the hours that you’ve been away from home responding or taking care of other people, and I just think it’s such a model for an outstanding way to live a life,” he said.

Representatives with DNRC, BLM the Wolf Creek/Craig board of directors and FireSafe Montana also praised Infanger.

“He’s a natural leader, he knows how to step up, he knows how to get boots on the ground and get the work done and get the work done properly,” said Tony Harwood, FireSafe’s chairman.

Long-time Helena-area fire official Sonny Stiger said that many of the battles with wildfire mitigation have been won, but due to a warming climate and increasing fuel loads near homes, he believes the greater effort is being lost. He gave the example of an estimated 700 homes in the Helena city limits with wood shake roofs that can ignite from flying embers in a wildfire.

Infanger credited the people he has worked with who mentored him throughout his career, and said honors such as the national mitigation award are not won alone. Convincing property owners to mitigate for wildfire was challenging in the early days and that continues today, but the work needs to continue and continue to be advocated for.

“I got to see a lot, got to do a lot, got to learn a lot and that’s what it’s all about, learning and being able to pass that on,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to work with some great individuals.

Infanger will receive his award March 27 at the Wildland-Urban Interface Conference in Reno.

Bitter Root Conservation and Development's community forester Byron Bonney also was selected as a 2019 awardee. Last year, Pat McKelvey with Tri-County FireSafe Working Group received the award.

Copyright 2019 Independent Record

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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