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A wall of over a dozen LED screens formed seamless images of graphs and heat maps gathering fire data in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma. Those screens — pulsing with reds, oranges and greens overlaid on topographical maps — were being monitored in a NASA-like command center by employees of Wildfire Defense Systems, a Four Corners-based wildfire loss prevention and response company.

From the LED-walled command center, Wildfire Defense Systems tracks nearly 15,000 fire starts a year.

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines visited the company Friday to tour its operation.

Daines applauded the work being done by Wildfire Defense Systems. The company’s state-of-the-art command center is just one more tool in the toolbox to combat longer fire seasons, he said.

“This is one more important tool, in addition to being more proactive in forest management … to stop the frivolous litigation that ties in to so many of our forest management projects that results in higher risk,” Daines said.

David Torgerson, the president of Wildfire Defense Systems, said during the tour that the company focuses on structure survivability — the company contracts with insurance agencies to protect homes and businesses owned by policyholders in 22 states.

Torgerson described some of the work that teams do. The crews, filled with trained firefighters, do not actually fight fires.

Instead, teams work to protect structures before fires, spraying fire-retardant gel on homes or clearing pine needles and brush from properties.

Torgerson said that one of the biggest tactics the company used for a fire near South Lake Tahoe, California, was raking pine needles, going so far as to engineer a system to efficiently remove the needles.

“While public firefighters fight fires, they don’t have time to do those things,” Torgerson said.

Daines introduced a series of bills last year dealing with wildfire, many of which focused on fighting fire with forest management.

The FIRESHEDS Act, introduced in July, aimed to allow governors to enter joint agreements with land management agencies to designate places as “fireshed” management areas. The designation is meant to allow expedited reduction of fuels and protect fuel reduction projects from lawsuits.

That bill and others have not made much movement after being introduced. The FIRESHEDS Act, for example, is still in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Daines said that despite the partisan divide in Congress, there is growing bipartisan support for more legislation dealing with forest management and wildfire. He included his bipartisan Wildfire Emergency Act — a bill he introduced with California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein — as an example.

“We have to manage the forest before the forest manages us,” Daines said.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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