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National

Montana Fire Season Reaches Dangerous New Level

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There are at least a dozen wildfires burning in Montana. It's one of the worst fire seasons the state has seen in years. Yesterday, a second firefighter died on the job. The state is also facing some big financial worries. Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney reports.

ERIC WHITNEY, BYLINE: At the foot of the Swan mountains in northwest Montana, Seeley Lake is a perfect summer get away with lush forests surrounding crystal-clear water. But the lake's been closed to recreation for the last few days so special air tankers can skim across its surface, scooping up 1,200 gallons of water at a pass to go drop on the Rice Ridge fire. The fire is throwing up a huge, menacing column of smoke, and the adjacent town of Seeley Lake is on evacuation standby. Local homeowner James Treser has been busy cutting down trees on his property.

JAMES TRESER: I'm trying to get more than the average guy does so that, you know, if at all possible, the firefighters, when they do get there, if it gets that bad, then they can look at that house and say, that's a savable house rather than one that - oh, we're just going to pass on that one because there's no chance.

WHITNEY: People across the state are taking similar measures as new evacuation orders or warnings have been popping up daily. And there's anxiety about how fast the state is spending its firefighting dollars. State budget director Dan Villa acknowledges the reserve is taking a big hit.

DAN VILLA: Right now state dollars - but we will get portions of that back as we work through the cost-sharing allocations with the federal government.

WHITNEY: Montana is spending about a million and a half dollars a day fighting fires. It's not unusual for large fires in Montana to burn out of control until snow starts to fall in October. For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Missoula.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYLE WORKMAN SONG, "ONE SECOND EVERY DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.