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Tracking eastern Montana's silent firestarters

Underground coal seams can burn unnoticed for years. They can also spark raging wildfires. Funding to extinguish them is limited, but a mapping effort is underway to plot the smoldering coordinates.

Last summer, wildfires burned half of John Bailey's 25,000-acre ranch in Rosebud County. With much of his pasture up in smoke, Bailey had to purchase hay to help feed his cattle. He says he spent about $90,000 on hay this past winter as a result of drought and fires in 2021. He also had to replace fencing and change his herds' grazing patterns to accommodate the burns, an expense of time and money.

"Oh my God, I thought I'd never have to deal with this in my lifetime again," Bailey said, remembering when a lightning strike started the Chalky Fire, which burned across his ranch in 2012.

The Ric...

 

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