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Montana firefighting costs approach $400M

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 30, 2017, 3:23 p.m.

HELENA – The cost of fighting wildfires in Montana is approaching $400 million at the tail end of the state’s worst wildfire season in two decades.

To date, wildfires have burned almost 1,900 square miles, slightly more than the area burned in Montana’s devastating 2012 fire season.

“One thing is clear, and that is that we do not have a fully sustainable program for fire seasons such as this one,” said Sue Clark, acting administrator of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation forestry division.

Clark spoke Thursday to the Environmental Quality Council, a legislative committee that meets between sessions.

The most expensive fires this year include Lolo Peak at $48 million, Rice Ridge at $47.9 million, Sapphire Complex at $36 million, and Meyers at more than $32.5 million.

In 2012, costs were about $113 million, compared with the $393 million spent in 2017.

Montana has received eight federal grants to cover 75 percent of firefighting costs, the Helena Independent Record reported.

State and county firefighters report controlling about 2,100 fires while they were still small for a 98 percent success rate. County crews likely caught hundreds more fires that went unreported.

Council members discussed studying how to boost preparedness such as by keeping equipment closer to where fires tend to occur.


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