Images of flames stretching above trees and planes dropping fire
retardant appeared on evening news programs across the country this
summer. Fires ravaged over 6.7 million acres in the United States
this year, more than double the previous 10-year average. Much of
the news footage came from Montana, where about 1 million acres,
86 homes and over 200 other structures were lost to fires.
Summer tourism slowed as fires prompted restrictions on outdoor
recreation activities for over six weeks in some areas. "Guest ranches
and outfitters really suffered. ... They couldn't service any clients,"
said Mary Boyle, publicity coordinator for Travel Montana. However,
television footage of forests ablaze may have had the greatest effect
on tourism, as travelers stayed away from areas such as Glacier
and Yellowstone national parks, which remained open. Some losses
were offset by firefighters staying at nearby hotels and eating
at restaurants, Boyle said. Up to 15,000 firefighters were in Montana
from the last week of July to mid-September, when rains and cooler
temperatures reduced fire danger.
Fires also slowed the forest product industry in Montana as forests
were closed to several thousand loggers and truckers. Many industry
workers moved out of the state to find work, while some contracted
with firefighting crews, said Chuck Keegan, an associate director
of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University
of Montana. In addition, several Montana mills curtailed production
due to a drop in the supply of logs coupled with low lumber prices.
While the fires have had a significant impact on individuals and
raised long-term forest policy issues, it remains to be seen what
impact they will have on Montana's overall economy for the year,
said Paul Polzin, BBER director. While the firefighting effort cost
well over $100 million, it's unknown how much of that money was
spent locally. Firefighters have their own camps and often bring
in many of their supplies, Polzin said.
Tobias Madden and Rob Grunewald
Fire Information Web sites
U.S. Forest Service
National Interagency Fire Center Fire Information
Montana Wildland Fire Information