2017 is turning out to be one of the most expensive fire seasons in years for Western Montana, with the tab for just the major fires passing the $100 million-mark this week.
Fighting even a single large fire can cost millions of dollars, so you can imagine how much money is being spent to deal with the more than a half-dozen major fires that have been burning in Western Montana over the past month.
And while firefighters have been able to get some containment, this summer’s fires are burning in rugged, difficult terrain which makes suppression even more expensive. That’s largely because all the fires were sparked by lightning in July.
The most expensive fire to date is also the largest: the Sapphire Complex burning above Rock Creek. According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, the trio of fires has cost $20.1 million so far, with over 500 personnel working the fire. The good news is, containment is now over 42 percent of the 30,041-acre burn zone.
The Sunrise Fire near Superior, which covers more than 21,000 acres, isn’t far behind. The cost here is nearly $19 million, but nearly a third of the fire is surrounded.
Number three on the list is the Meyers Fire, which has scorched 13,797-acres in Granite County. More than $15.4 million has been spent so far with containment at just 5 percent.
The Lolo Peak Fire costs are also climbing rapidly, driven by the fact that aerial operations have been extensive, coupled with the cost of building some 30 miles of fire lines to try and keep the blaze corralled in the high country. $8.8 million had been spent last week. As of Tuesday the total is now just under $15 million.
The Rice Ridge Fire is an expensive beast as well, with $11.5 million spent so far keeping nearly 600 personnel on the lines of the 12,091-acre fire.
And the newer Gibraltar Fire in the Whitefish Range is already running up a bill in the past week, costing $4 million for fire suppression to date.
Other major fires on the tab include the Liberty Fire east of Arlee at nearly $9 million and the Park and Arrastra Creek fires near Lincoln where the totals top $12 million.
And while the bill is expensive, the good news is the investment is saving lives and property, with virtually no buildings lost even with upwards of 100,000 acres on fire this summer.