BILLINGS – More than 1.1 million acres of land burned in Montana during the 2012 fire season, making it the worst fire season since 1910. However, the 2006 season was nearly as bad.
The Northern Rockies Coordination Center said fires scorched 1,718 square miles of land and destroyed more than 80 residences. The fires cost $113 million to suppress, including $50 million in state money.
From 2002 through 2010, Montana averaged 1,648 fires per year burning 338,252 acres. In 2006, just over 1 million acres burned in Montana.
Derek Yeager, fire management officer for the Southern Montana Land Office in Billings, said more than half of this year’s 2,116 fires were human-caused, but the largest and most destructive were sparked by lightning.
“Our records go back roughly to the beginning of the 1900s, and except for 1910, this is the most acreage burned in a single season,” Yeager said last week.
The 1910 fire season saw 3 million acres burn in Western Montana and Idaho and 85 people died. This year, there were no major casualties in Montana.
“We’re very proud of that,” Yeager said. “One way to look at it, rather than viewing it as the worst fire year, is that our safety record was pretty commendable. And it gives us a chance to review what worked and what we could do better if it happens again.”
One of the most destructive fires, the Dahl Fire, burned 22,000 acres, or 34 square miles in the Bull Mountains north of Billings.
The fire burned 223 structures, including 73 residences, and cost $3.5 million to fight.
Also in late June, the Ash Creek fire in Rosebud and Powder River counties burned 249,562 acres – or nearly 390 square miles – and burned several homes on or near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. It cost $7.5 million to suppress.
A group of fires that burned in southwestern Montana in August burned nearly 268 square miles, destroyed 10 structures and cost $9 million to fight while a 16-square-mile fire south of Bozeman cost $10.6 million to suppress, officials said.