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A heavy-lift Chinook helicopter flies toward a large plume of smoke on the Lolo Peak fire on Aug. 17. The fire ran seven miles in seven hours that night. 

KURT WILSON, Missoulian

California’s Thomas fire may have triggered the effort, but scorched forests in Montana also played a part in the latest round of federal disaster funding.

Unfortunately, all those local firefighting accounts must wait until 2018 after Congress failed to pass a supplemental $81 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Administration and related disaster managers. The bill would have provided relief for damage from hurricanes, floods and other calamities, including wildfires.

The House approved the bill 251-169 on Wednesday. Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte voted for the measure.

But it needed 60 votes in the Senate on Thursday. Several Republicans opposed it for increasing spending too much, while Democrats said it didn’t provide enough relief. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided not to bring it forward for a vote on Thursday.

So far through 2017, Congress has approved about $49 billion for various disaster recovery efforts. In October, Congress approved a $36.5 billion package aimed at hurricane damage to Puerto Rico, Texas, Louisiana, the Virgin Islands and Florida. That included about $500 million for wildfires. But they were approved before the Thomas fire in December burned 242,000 acres north of Los Angeles.

Montana’s 2017 wildfire bill came to more than $368 million, of which the state was responsible for about $70 million. Statewide, Montana county officials filed 166 fire-related disaster claims stemming from eight major fires. The first was the Lodgepole fire complex, followed by Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, Alice Creek, West Fork, Highway 200 fire complex, Moose Peak and Strawberry fires. However, the FEMA website shows all eight still don’t have public assistance obligated to their applications.

The new bill included $4.4 billion for fire-related relief in California, which does not include Thomas fire costs. Nationwide, the Forest Service spent $2.9 billion fighting forest fires across 9 million acres of public land.

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