STEVENSVILLE — The sound of helicopters in the Bitterroot often signals the beginning of another fire season but on Thursday, it marked the location of critical training to keep those fires under control.

For the first time ever, U.S. Forest Service rappel teams are using Western Montana locations to prepare for the upcoming fire season.

Beginning with groundwork in Missoula, the specialized firefighters from all over the Northwest went airborne Thursday, evaluating a new training location on private land just south of the Bass Creek Recreation Area.

“Back in the 60s and 70s they would have to run a string of mules and supplies and it might be a week before they actually got to the fire,” explained Casey Woodward, who works out of the Wenatchee, Washington firebase for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “So of course the helicopter is quick. It can be precise because it can hover. And our bread and butter is really accessing remote small, especially lightning caused fires.”

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