Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on September 1, 2017.

Big Sky, Big Fires

Montana’s summer of wildfire discontent

BY JESSE ROMAN

In Montana, a steady onslaught of wildfires this summer has stressed state coffers and the patience of residents during what has already become the worst wildfire season in the state since 2012. As of the last week of August, more than half a million acres, or over 800 square miles, of forest have burned across the state. More devastation is expected before the fires are contained.

The largest of the state’s fires, and the largest in the nation this year, is the Lodgepole Complex in the sparsely populated eastern portion of the state. The fire grew to the size of New York City, burning 270,000 acres and destroying at least 16 homes before it was contained in early August. Since then, the focus has shifted west.

Ten large fires sparked by lightning are now raging inside Lolo National Forest just west of Missoula, with full containment not expected until the end of October, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Smaller fires are also burning in and around Glacier National Park, including the Sprague Fire, pictured here, which has charred more than 1,200 acres of forest in the mountains east of picturesque Lake McDonald. Nearly 4,300 fire suppression personnel from federal, state, and local agencies were on the ground in Montana as of August 23, most centered in Lolo National Forest.

As of mid-August, nearly $170 million had been spent battling the roughly 1,400 fires that have struck Montana this summer, including about $30 million chipped in by the state, according to analysis by the Associated Press. On August 16, Montana’s state budget director announced that the state’s entire firefighting fund had been drained just weeks into the new fiscal year. State officials have vowed to forge ahead with emergency funds and address the shortfall at season’s end.

JESSE ROMAN is associate editor for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Getty Images