(HELENA) Catastrophe is a strong, scary word. However, a wildfire catastrophe with not just the loss of homes, but the loss of human life is reality here in Montana.

The beetle kill has left our forests like a tinder box, with available fire fuels unlike any other time in Montana’s history. Live trees offer a defense mechanism by storing water. Even in dry years, a live tree will somewhat slow the potential of fire growth. But a dead, dry tree will burn faster and hotter.

Through Montana’s history, fire has killed hundreds of people in the state. Historically, wildfires have burned down mountain sides and into towns and neighborhoods. In 2015, 351,000 acres burned in Montana. In 2014, only 38,000 acres burned. 2013 was another relatively quiet year with only 124,000 acres burned.

In 2012, when the Corral Fire and the Scratch Gravel Hills burned in the Helena Valley, more than 1.2 million acres burned across Montana, an indication of what is possible.

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Over the next few weeks, MTN will be identifying some of the towns and cities in the state that are under an elevated, significant risk from wildfire.


Reporter: Curtis Grevenitz