Published January 1, 2004 | January 2004 issue
The 2003 fire season is over but legislators are steaming over the apparent escalation of firefighting costs.
A report from the Montana Legislative Finance Committee shows that the state rang up a bill of about $27 million, out of $67 million, fighting fires last year. The federal government picked up the $40 million difference. In 2000—a year of catastrophic wildfires in the state—fire costs totaled $55 million, and the state also assumed a much smaller share of that total.
The head of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation attributed some of the higher costs to more intensive and extensive efforts to protect communities last year, which often involve more heavy equipment and aircraft. In mid-December, the Legislative Audit Committee unanimously called for a performance audit on the state's firefighting practices.