AP NEWS

Montana winding down quiet fire season after record 2017

September 20, 2018

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Storms dumped rain across Montana this week and brought the state closer to the end of a fire season that’s been much smaller and much less expensive than 2017′s record-setting year.

Fires so far this year have burned 143 square miles (370 square kilometers) in the state, which is about 7 percent of the record 2,134 square miles (5,527 square kilometers) that burned in 2017, according to data from the Northern Rockies Coordination Center.

The cost is also a fraction of last year’s budget-busting $70 million fire season, which led Gov. Steve Bullock to call a special legislative session last fall to fix the shortfall.

This year, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director John Tubbs recently said the state’s 2018 fire suppression costs are forecast below $8 million. Those costs don’t include fires burning in national forests, parks and other federal lands. Glacier National Park’s Howe Ridge Fire alone has cost $12.4 million to date.

Fire season is not over yet and won’t be until a season-ending event such as a snowstorm hits the state. There are still 19 active fires ranging in size from a tenth of an acre to 23 square miles in Glacier park, according to the Northern Rockies Coordination Center.

Recent shorter, cooler and wetter days have reduced fire activity, but concerns remain, Bruce Suenram, deputy chief of fire and aviation for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, told the Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee.

They include seasonal winds that could pump new life into fires and the possibility of a hard freeze killing grass and making ready fuel for fire to spread late in the season, he said.

“We’re not done, but we’re on the downhill side,” Suenram said.

Human-caused fires are also a threat, Tubbs said. “Stay vigilant, and we will get out of this season just fine,” he said.

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