This has been the most expensive fire season in Montana since at least 1999. Both the state and federal governments have spent a combined $378 million dollars so far battling blazes.
"We had one of the most active fire seasons we’ve ever had because we had a very warm and dry summer," Angela Wells, the fire information officer for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, says. "The period from June to August of 2017 was the hottest and driest June to August period that we had on record.”
Wells says in terms of the number of acres burned, 2017’s wildfire season ranks 3rd in Montana’s history, only behind the summer of 2012 and the Great Burn of 1910.
Climatologists say these kind of fire seasons may be a vision of the state’s future due to climate change. If that’s the case, Wells says Montanans need to prepare.
“How do you have a strategy in place to deal with air quality impacts? Many homes in Missoula aren’t air conditioned and so when the recommendation is that you stay inside and keep all your windows shut, that’s not a practical reality for most of the people living in this area,” she says.
She says people should think about installing HEPA filters and, if they live within an urban wildland interface, taking actions like cutting back vegetation around their homes.
Some Republicans, including Congressman Greg Gianforte and U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, say big parts of public forests should be thinned in order to ease fires. Wells says thinning forests near a community can help:
“But we need to prepare to continue to have fire, and thinning and managing forests is not a panacea and it’s not going to solve the problem,” she says.