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Clearing bills

by chris sorensen |

"We've paid for just about everything you can imagine," said Starla Grill, who with Jan McLaren coordinated the payment center. "Water tenders, engines, land-use agreements for fire camps, office equipment, Porta Potties, chain saws, tool-shop trucks, rental cars, satellite phones, contract crews."

The forest-by-forest totals tell the story of last summer's wildfires: $27.8 million in equipment costs billed to the Flathead National Forest by 1,174 separate contractors; $14.8 million billed to the Lolo National Forest, issued in 795 payments; 338 payments totaling $4.7 million billed to the Bitterroot National Forest; $4.2 million paid by the Helena forest; $4.2 million by the Nez Perce; and $4 million by the Clearwater forest.

And that's only for items covered under emergency equipment rental agreements, Grill said. That's not counting wages paid Forest Service firefighters or national contracts covering fire caterers, commissaries, air tankers and heavy helicopters.

In fact, the Northern Region spent $367 million fighting wildfires this past summer - and those are just the fires for which the Forest Service had fire-suppression responsibility.