NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Montana Forest Fire Affects RML

Smoke from a forest fire seen in back of RML building
Smoke from a forest fire in the Bitterroot Mountains can be seen from the grounds NIH's RML facilities.

Photo:  Bryan Kercher

A forest fire erupted on the afternoon of July 31 in the Bitterroot Mountains, about 5 miles southwest of NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana.

As shown in the photo taken by local Office of Research Facilities staff, the firestorm appeared to hover over the RML Integrated Research Facility. The blaze forced 24 RML staff to evacuate their homes for nearly a week and destroyed one employee’s home. In all, more than 800 residents were evacuated; 16 homes burned, as did 49 sheds, barns and garages. The fire did not threaten RML structures, but prompted employees to revisit procedures and protocols for emergency situations. RML leadership effectively used an incident command structure to keep its 450 staffers informed of fire developments, smoke mitigation and fire evacuation plans and personnel leave options.

The NIH Recreation and Welfare Association branch at RML raised about $2,700 for the 10 local volunteer fire departments that responded to the fire. The organization coordinated about 40 RML volunteers to assist co-workers with evacuation needs.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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