Montana Changes The Way It Pays For Wildfires - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Montana Changes The Way It Pays For Wildfires

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BOZEMAN -

The rising costs to help fight the wildfires are leaving some organizations in a bind, but Montana just changed how they pay their fire bills.

With wildfires burning across Montana and the west, the U.S. Forest Service is running out of money.

The nation's top wildfire-fighting agency was down to $50 million after spending $967 million so far this year. Officials say that $50 million would only have covered a few days on the fire lines.

ABC FOX Montana learned Wednesday the forest service is moving $600 million from its timber, recreation and other areas to fill the gap.

Montana shouldn't have this problem this year. In May legislators changed the way the state finances fires. 

Before this year, Montana didn't set aside money to pay fire bills and left it to the next legislative session to pay the bill.

Many newer state representatives weren't happy about that.

"When you have 35 percent new legislators and they said ‘What? We have to pay for bills that have already been spent and they weren't paid for?'" said Pat Connell, State Representative for District 87.

Connell wrote the bill that was signed into law, creating a fund that will go toward fighting wildfires before they start.

Now, state agencies that don't spend their entire budget will have the extra money diverted into a fund used to fight wildfires, up to $100 million.

Connell said they put a cap on the fire fund to make sure it was used properly

"We did not want to create a slush fund," said Connell. "What we wanted to do was to create a basis that we could ensure payment of any wildfire experience Montana's had."

This isn't the first time the state has looked to create a fund like this. Connell said former Governor Brian Schweitzer wanted to do it this way too, but legislators weren't for it at the time.

They said we didn't need that fund because we had the governor's emergency fund that was an all of eight million dollars annually to take care of that.

Connell said Montana's 2012 fire season cost $50 million.

And as of July 1, the wildfire fighting fund had $51 million.

So far this year, Montana has spent only $3 million.

As of today, the forest service has spent more than $1.6million on the Miner Paradise Complex fire.

This year's fire season cost federal agencies $1.2 billion so far. And with 51 large uncontained fires burning across the nation, officials say resources are tight across the board.

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