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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Montana's 2018 Fire Season Costs Trending Well Below Average

Montana DNRC helicopter used to fight wildfires.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana DNRC helicopter used to fight wildfires.

Montana’s wildfire season is slowing down and trending well below average in the number of fires, acres burned and cost to the state.

The forecast of the state’s 2018 fire bill is only a sliver of the cost of last year’s historic fire season, according to a report from legislative researchers published Wednesday

John Tubbs, the director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, knocked on a wooden podium last week when he briefed state lawmakers on the cost of managing fires this year.

“It looks like we might just come in under $8 million.”

If that’s the case, it would put Montana significantly under the more than $20 million average cost to the state per fire season over the last decade.

Annual Montana fire suppression costs.
Credit Montana Legislative Fiscal Division
Annual Montana fire suppression costs.

The cost of firefighting last year, around $70 million, played a role in the derailing of the state’s budget leading to a Special Legislative Session and sweeping cuts across state agencies.

As of early September just over 74,000 acres had burned in Montana. This time last year that number was 1.2 million.

It’s a relief to Montana's firefighting savings account, which remained drained from the 2017 season heading into this year. DNRC estimates the fire fund balance was around $5 million at the end of August.

Officials add that fire season is still active and the state’s final costs for this year’s fire season are still unknown.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story's headline included an incorrect total for the current costs of Montana's 2018 fire season. 

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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