Is an extreme fire season the 'new normal' in Montana? - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

Is an extreme fire season the 'new normal' in Montana?

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More than 1,000,000 acres have burned this summer, in what is proving to be one of the most ferocious seasons in Montana’s history.

But is a long season full of huge fires the new normal?

Mike Granger is the State Fire Management Officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has decades of experience in firefighting and managing fires in different parts of the country.

Granger started in Montana in 1991, and says the 2017 season is shaping up to be one of the worst he’s seen since 2000.

"I've never seen a year where we've had so many large fires, that we haven't been able to get them out,” Granger said Tuesday in a phone interview from the Lolo Peak Complex Fire, where he has been working for eight days.

“I've been on several of those fires this year and putting those fires out is extremely difficult and they continue to get larger and larger in spite of or efforts and in spite of what we're doing to try to put them out."

As of Wednesday evening, 1,032,801 acres have burned according to the Northern Rockies Coordination Center.

This makes it the third largest fire season in the last 15 years, based on statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center.

In 2006; 1,047,323 acres burned and in 2012; 1.2 million acres burned, making 2012 the largest season since the Great Fire of 1910, which burned 3 million acres and killed 86 people, 78 of whom were firefighters.

But in calculating what makes a fire season the “worst” Granger says it’s more than just a numbers game.

"I look at what is the impact upon the citizens of our state, what is the impact upon the people coming in to enjoy the natural beauty of our state, the people that live here and that have lost their homes, the people that have lost their livelihoods,” Granger said.

“There are a lot of other inputs that go in to a number than how many acres have burned in the Northern Rockies in any single years."

Granger’s point is echoed by some of the most notable fires in Montana’s history.

The Mann Gulch Fire of 1949 burned only 4,500 acres, but claimed the lives of 13 firefighters, making it one of the most notorious in history.

The Yellowstone Fires of 1988 burned 793,880 acres—a huge number, but more significant was the impact it had on fire management in national parks.

Granger says the last 100 years of fire management have been based on fire suppression allowing forests to overgrow. But as Granger says “Mother Nature always bats last” and forest fires are inevitable.

"This is a very extreme fire season. Will we have fire seasons like this in the future? Yes. Will they be like this every year? I doubt it. But will they become more frequent these extreme fire seasons? They could very well be."

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