UM report details economic impact of 2017 fire season

MISSOULA- Most people suspected the 2017 fire season had a major impact on Montana’s summer tourist season.

A new report by researchers from the University of Montana shows the lost business was likely even more expensive than anyone might have guessed.

With more than a million acres burning, most in Western Montana following lightning storms in mid-July, the smoke, fire, and evacuations couldn’t have hit at a worse time for the tourism industry.

UM’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research now estimates Montana lost up to 800,000 visitors, costing the state more than $240 million.

While a third of the visitors surveyed that did come here in July, August or September said the smoke wasn’t bad enough to negatively impact them, 10 percent couldn’t go to their planned destination with 7 percent switching to a different part of the state.

Missoula and Flathead counties were hit the hardest by the epic fire season.

Even local residents had to change plans to hike, fish, and spend time outdoors while 25 percent canceled in-state travel plans altogether.

The researchers warn firefighting costs, loss of business and disillusioned Montanans could become a bigger issue in the years to come.

-Dennis Bragg reporting for MTN