Lolo National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig is defending the actions taken to manage the Lolo Peak Fire when it was first reported on July 15.

On that day, officials issued a press release that stated 'This fire is in remote terrain near the wilderness and located in thick timber at high elevation. Fire managers are developing long term plans to manage and take action on this fire if needed. The fire is not threatening structures or property and there are currently no closures in place. During afternoon periods this fire will likely continue to produce visible smoke.’

Now that the fire has burned over 38,000 acres, destroyed two homes and tragically taken the life of a California firefighter, and has become what could be the most expensive fire in Montana history, Hartwig responded to critics who ask why there wasn't a more aggressive response when the fire was smaller and possibly easier to control.

"You have to go back and look at the terrain where that fire started, the fuel type and just the general condition in that scenario," Hartwig began. "Also, I think we had about 19 fires over about two days that we also had to respond to. These were fires which required immediate response in the wildland urban interface that were imminently threatening structures. That area was super remote and was very close to wilderness and it had been a long time since fire had come through that area."

Hartwig said many factors went into the decision on how to treat the Lolo Peak Fire.

"You have to consider location, fuel type, weather, terrain and other places where you're putting resources right away to save homes," he said. "All those things need to be considered, and you have to make the best decision possible. Is every decision always perfect? If you don't have everything working in your favor all the time, you can't respond to every fire and put every fire out. I will say that the community has been very supportive of our efforts. They knew we were in this for the long run and that has been a critical thing for all of us."

Hartwig said fire officials are always learning from every incident.

"We're always looking for ways to assess and put resources where they will be most effective, and that's an ongoing thing," he said. "Every day we learn, and the answer to your question is 'yes, we feel like we did the right thing'."

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