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Montana's fire season one for the record books

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BILLINGS - Montana is no stranger to fires, but this year flames tore through over 1 million acres, costing the state dollars and lives.

Reporter Dustin Klemann takes a look back at the wildfires of 2017 and their impact on Montana.

The fire season first got underway in northeastern Montana, where the Lodgepole Complex broke out in mid-July. The lightning-sparked blaze chewed through over 270,000 acres, destroying 16 homes and 16 other structures north of Jordan. Although the fire only burned for about two weeks, the impact on ranchers is expected to be felt for a long time to come.

The Rice Ridge fire ignited in late July and became the nation's number one priority wildfire by September. Flames -- which scorched 160,000 acres -- weren't the only hazard for the community of Seeley Lake. Large clouds of smoke flooded the town, choking out residents and would be tourists. The massive blaze was not considered fully contained until mid-October.

The nearby Lolo Peak fire erupted in the Bitterroot and Lolo National forests in mid-July. Thousands of people were evacuated as the flames spread rapidly across 54,000 acres between Lolo and Florence. Brent Witham -- a California hotshot -- was killed while fighting the fire, which burned through late September.

A piece of Montana history burned to the ground in August after the Sprague Fire picked up in Glacier National Park. The historic Sperry Chalet, which was built in 1913, became one of the casualties of this particularly cruel fire season. By the time is was put out, the Sprague fire burned 17,000 acres and forced evacuations in the Park.

Montana’s historic fire season cost the state close to $54 million to fight.

It's difficult to say which of these fires was the worst. Firefighter Trenton Johnson, 19, was killed while fighting the Florence Fire near Seeley Lake. The Sapphire Complex fire in Granite County along with the Highway 200 Complex in Sanders and Lincoln counties were a big part of the drain on state resources. And dozens of homes were burned in fires that didn't make this short list.

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