Wildfire Danger in Montana

Fire Danger in Montana

It is crucial to recognize the high risk of wildfire danger in Montana, especially in the state’s alpine environments. With dry summers becoming more frequent, the likelihood of fires devastating larger areas of Montana is growing at an excessive rate. As more people flock to Montana’s alpine regions for outdoor activities and scenic views, the risk of households being destroyed by wildfires continues to grow. Understanding the fire risk in your region can help you assess the potential threat to your home and take steps to prepare your property to withstand a wildfire. These steps can include making your home more fire resistant, creating a defensible space around your property, and having a plan in place in case of an emergency.


Quantifying Wildfire Risk

Four components in quantifying wildfire risk:

  1.       Probability
  2.       Intensity
  3.       Exposure
  4.       Susceptibility

The likelihood of a wildfire occurring in a specific location is the annual probability of a wildfire burning in that area. This likelihood can be averaged for a community based on the location of the housing units. The intensity of a wildfire is a measure of the energy it produces, which is largely determined by the topography and vegetative fuel in the area. The exposure of a community to wildfire refers to the spatial coincidence of wildfire likelihood and intensity with homes and communities. A community can be directly exposed to wildfire from nearby wildland vegetation, or indirectly exposed to wildfire from embers or home-to-home ignition. The susceptibility to damage of a home or community from a wildfire depends on how easily the structure or area can be damaged by different types and intensities of a fire. Some assets, such as buildings with fire-resistant materials, may be able to withstand very intense fires without damage, while others may be easily damaged by a low-intensity fire.

Current Risk

Wildfire Danger in Montana: Current wild fire risk in Montana.Wildfire Danger in Montana: Current annual burn probability in Montana.

Above are maps showing the risk to homes and wildfire threat in Montana. These maps emphasize the fire danger in the mountainous and alpine regions of Montana. It is worth noting that the risk to homes from wildfires can be influenced by a variety of factors beyond just the amount of wildfire activity in each area. It is important to note that the maps shown may highlight certain areas as having a higher risk of wildfire damage, but it is important to consider the changing environment due to climate change and the influx of people to Montana

Increasing Risk

In Montana, more than a third of homes (nearly 120,000) have a moderate to high risk of wildfire damage. The number of homes in these high-risk areas has nearly doubled since 1990. This increase in risk is due, in part, to the growing population in Montana and the corresponding development of homes in wildfire-prone areas. The scenic views, recreational opportunities, and surrounding undeveloped lands in Montana attract many new residents, leading to an increase in housing growth in areas with a high risk of wildfire.

As the population and development in Montana continue to grow, the risks associated with wildfire will also increase. It is important for communities and developers to anticipate the potential for wildfire and plan accordingly to minimize the risks to homes and communities.

In addition to the existing risks of wildfire, Montana residents will also face increased risks from heat, fire, and drought due to climate change. The Bozeman area is particularly at risk for an increase in temperatures, and Montana is ranked as having the fourth-highest risk of drought and the seventh-highest risk of wildfire in the country. By 2050, the number of extremely hot days in Montana is expected to increase from 33 to 43. Additionally, the available water supply in the Bozeman region is significantly smaller than other cities in Montana, further increasing the risk of drought and wildfire.

Overall, the risks associated with wildfire in Montana are increasing and will continue to be a significant concern in the coming years. It is important for residents and decision-makers to take action to mitigate these risks and plan for the future.



Written by:

Ward Cereck – CMS Engineering Intern

Edited by:

Paul Williamson – CMS Director of Business Development





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