MISSOULA, Mont. — University of Montana researchers say the 2017 fire season likely cost Montana about $240 million in visitor spending.

The Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research said Tuesday that 12.5 million out-of-staters visited Montana last year and spent $3.36 billion.

Economist Jeremy Sage says visitor spending in 2017 was higher than 2016, but could have been more if the effects of last summer’s wildfires — including weeks of heavy smoke — hadn’t led people to change, shorten or cancel their plans.

Visitation to Montana was up 1 percent in 2017 and overall spending increased by nearly 11 percent.

The largest visitor expense was nearly $769 million on gasoline and diesel fuel, followed by $667 million on bars and restaurants and $449 million on hotels and motels.

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