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Montana official: Fairly mild wildfire season spurs lowest firefighting spending in 10 years

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HELENA, Montana — A fairly mild wildfire season in Montana has led to the lowest spending on firefighting efforts in a decade, a state forestry official told a legislative panel Thursday.

There was really not much to report about the winding-down season, compared with other years and other Western states, forester Bob Harrington of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation told the Environmental Quality Council in Helena.

"Washington, Oregon and California have had quite the year," he said.

But in Montana, a cool, wet spring helped provide a slow start to the season, which forecasters and fire officials from state and federal agencies had predicted would be mild.

"We still had a fairly active fire year," Harrington said. "But moisture and Mother Nature really helped firefighters be successful."

He said the 251 fires so far this year is close to the five-year average, but the 20 square miles of land burned is just 12 percent of the five-year average.

In addition, no firefighters from the department have been killed or seriously injured on the job this year, Harrington said, adding that local crews have been effective at keeping blazes to a minimum.

More than $1.7 million has been spent on fires, which Harrington said is the lowest amount in the past 10 years. While the season doesn't end until fall, he expects spending will be the lowest or among the lowest in a decade.

That leaves about $44 million in a fire suppression fund that will be available to use next year.

Of that, Gov. Steve Bullock has approved $2 million for fuel reduction projects. A request for proposals has gone out, and the state aims to approve projects by mid-October so they can start later this year, Harrington said.

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