Elmo Fire
The Elmo Fire burns near Elmo and Dayton on the western shore of Flathead Lake on August 1, 2022. Credit: Hunter D’Antuono / Flathead Beacon

This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

With Montana’s 2022 fire season wrapping up, the state appears to have gotten off fairly lightly this year, with wildfires charring just 134,000 acres of the state, according to data from the Northern Rockies Coordination Center.

This year’s burn acreage pales in comparison to big fire years of the past — 852,000 acres in 2021, for example, or the whopping 1.3 million acres that burned in 2017 (the year a $74 million firefighting bill helped put state government in a budget crisis).

The state was lightly singed in relation to neighboring Idaho, too. A single fire on the other side of Montana’s southwestern border, the Moose Fire, burned an estimated 130,000 acres near Salmon, Idaho — an expanse nearly as big as the total area burned in Montana.

Montana’s landscape and property owners by no means got off scot free this year, though. The Elmo Fire on the western side of Flathead Lake, for example, burned more than 20,000 acres and destroyed an estimated 8 structures.

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Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.